It's no secret that Montana is dry. A graph from shows that most of the state has been experiencing some level of drought conditions for the majority of the past 21 years. Early indicators are showing that this summer things may get quite a bit worse.

Photo by Sarah Neslund, used with permission
Canyon Ferry - Photo by Sarah Neslund, used with permission

Over half of the state is experiencing "extreme drought."

84.9% of the Treasure State is currently in "severe drought" and 51.9% is dealing with "extreme drought", affecting over 724,000 Montanans according to the latest NOAA/USDA data. There is only one level worse than "extreme drought" and that is "exceptional drought"... thankfully, we are not there. Yet.

State water experts are expressing concern.

Arin Peters, Senior Service Hydrologist with the National Weather Service in Montana shared a Tweet yesterday (3/21) with some concerning data regarding the current water levels at two popular lakes in Montana; Canyon Ferry Reservoir at Townsend and Clark Canyon Reservoir near Dillon. Both bodies of water are substantially lower in March 2022 than they were in March 2021. Like, five to eight feet lower.

Chatting with Peters today, I was able to put that into perspective. Normally, Canyon Ferry holds about 1.46 million acre-feet of water at the end of February. This year it's at 1.26 million acre-feet.  The 200,000 acre-feet difference is a shortage of 65,170,200,000 gallons of water! 65 BILLION. Peters said that Fort Peck Reservoir is currently 11 feet lower now than it was last year at the same time.

Graphic by USDA/NRCS
Graphic by USDA/NRCS

March snowpack is low across much of the state.

Most of the mountains in southwest Montana that ultimately feed the Missouri river are running 15 - 20% below the average for snowpack at this time. The Upper Yellowstone and Powder River basins are short similar levels.

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Credit Adam Hartman, NOAA/NWS/USDA
Credit Adam Hartman, NOAA/NWS/USDA

We need an extremely wet April and May.

In his Tweet, Peters wrote,

The near-term @NWSCPC outlooks aren't promising for even holding on to what we do have with above average temperatures forecast through the end of the month. With much of the state still in D3 (extreme) drought, I'm becoming increasingly concerned about what this summer is going to look like for our streams and rivers, agricultural impacts, as well as fire season.
Arin reminded me that March and April typically pack a big punch of snowfall for our state and we shouldn't panic quite yet. He added that if we see normal amounts of precipitation in April, May, and June, most dryland farmers should fair ok.  Last year, the rain basically stopped at the end of May in most of Montana and we had the dryest June and July on record. Let's hope we're not in for a repeat. The consequences could be devasting.

LOOK: See how much gasoline cost the year you started driving

To find out more about how has the price of gas changed throughout the years, Stacker ran the numbers on the cost of a gallon of gasoline for each of the last 84 years. Using data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (released in April 2020), we analyzed the average price for a gallon of unleaded regular gasoline from 1976 to 2020 along with the Consumer Price Index (CPI) for unleaded regular gasoline from 1937 to 1976, including the absolute and inflation-adjusted prices for each year.

Read on to explore the cost of gas over time and rediscover just how much a gallon was when you first started driving.

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