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What an 'extreme drought' in Montana means for you

Nearly 70 percent of Montana is in extreme drought
drought pic.JPG
Posted at 6:01 PM, Aug 12, 2021
and last updated 2021-08-12 20:01:58-04

BILLINGS- All of Montana is considered abnormally dry, according to the National Weather Service, with nearly 70 percent of Montana in an extreme drought.

Drought is a term we hear often – but what does it really mean to be in one?

We enlisted the help of KTVQ Chief Meteorologist Ed McIntosh, to explain what a drought means for you and me.

‘Some of the levels of drought that we're seeing right now, we haven't seen for quite some time,” said McIntosh.

He explains it will start to impact a variety of things in your daily life.

“We're seeing what is called D4 levels of drought, which might come up once or twice in a century,” McIntosh said.

A once-in-a-century drought that McIntosh says could have lasting impacts beyond the summer.

“Sometimes we just associate drought, with hot weather, and a dry period. But drought can go right on through the winter as well,” he said.

The National Weather Service says over 857,000 people are affected by the drought in Montana. And June 2021 was the second driest on record over the past 127 years.

“Slowly it starts to move in,” said McIntosh.

And the impacts can be slow too… unlike other natural disasters we see around the state.

“I mean, if we know there's a hailstorm coming, we know what the effects can be. It's short, it's quick, we know we must get a new roof,” he said.

You know it's going to impact you the next time you visit your local supermarket, according to McIntosh.

“All of a sudden there aren’t any strawberries at the store, and you know it's harder to buy ground beef. Supply and demand start to be affected,” he said.

Already this summer at least six major cities in Montana, including Bozeman, Billings, and Polson, have phased in water restrictions –telling residents to cut back on non-essential water use.

“We'll start to see cities start to put plans in place to maybe control watering lawns,” McIntosh said.

But the impacts don’t end there: the quality of life all Montanans grow to love will also be impacted.

“Hunting and fishing,” said McIntosh. “All of a sudden there’s stress on fish, there's stress on wildlife. Then we could see effects for recreation, health can start to be affected, things dry out enough wildfires will become more of a concern.”

Being in a drought severely impacts our farmers and ranchers, that we know.

But sometimes it’s hard to see the effects of drought in your daily life, but as McIntosh explains, a drought impacts us all even when we maybe can’t tell right away.

“If you think back to the pandemic, and all the gyms shut down. And at first, it really didn't affect me all that much but later on, I start putting on extra weight,” he said. "Then you could go back, and you can start to get back in shape again, but the effects for me, I'm still carrying around those extra pounds."

He says even when the warm weather starts to get cooler and welcomed rain arrives, Montana will still have the impact of being in a drought.

“So, even if it starts raining, we're still going to feel the effects for quite some time.”

The last time Montana was in “exceptional drought” was in the early 2000s – that was considered a D4 drought level, as McIntosh explained. That was the longest drought on record with some 300 weeks of drought according to the National Weather Service.