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Drought conditions improve ahead of spring planting

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

According to the April 7 Wyoming Crop Progress Report, published by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) National Agriculture Statistics Service (NASS), drought conditions improved across the state during the first week of April, just in time for many growers to turn their attention to the 2024 spring planting season. 

The report notes the amount of land rated drought free was 54 percent, up 11 percent from the 45 percent reported the week prior. 

Twenty-one percent of the state reported abnormally dry conditions, an improvement of eight percent from the previous week, according to NASS, while moderate drought conditions stood at 17 percent, unchanged from the week before. Severe drought conditions also remained unchanged at nine percent. 

“Reports from Lincoln County indicated cold wet conditions during the week, resulting in the ground being too wet to cultivate, while ranchers in the area were heavily into calving and flocks are starting to lamb out,” NASS continues. “Niobrara County reporters noted heavy snowfall received over the weekend.”

Conditions across the High Plains

Improved drought conditions were not confined to the state of Wyoming. 

In fact, according to the National Drought Mitigation Center’s (NDMC) Drought Climate Summary for March 2024, most of the West saw improvements, especially throughout Arizona, parts of Central and Western New Mexico, Colorado, Western Montana, Northern Idaho, Washington, Oregon and the Sierra Nevada. 

“Above-normal precipitation, comprised mostly of snow, fell in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado – especially in the central third of the state – as well as parts of Southern and West-Central Wyoming in March,” notes NDMC. 

“During March, drought coverage somewhat decreased overall in the High Plains states, while abnormal dryness increased slightly,” NDMC continues. “The region remained free of extreme or exceptional drought.” 

Despite this, some areas of Colorado, adjacent parts of Kansas, Northeast and North-Central Wyoming, East-Central North Dakota and the Black Hills of South Dakota saw drier than normal weather conditions.

“In the Big Horn Mountains of North-Central Wyoming, continued low snowfall in March has led to record or near-record low snow water equivalent numbers at the end of March,” notes NDMC.

Additionally, the report notes the eastern one-third of the High Plains region saw temperatures two to five degrees warmer than usual, while western portions of the state were more of a mixed bag.

Wyoming water supply outlook 

Improved drought conditions may have growers optimistic about the start to their planting season, but it is also important to consider water supply for months ahead. 

According to the NASS Wyoming Crop Progress Report, irrigation water supplies for the state of Wyoming were rated six percent fair and 94 percent good, unchanged from the week prior. 

More specifically, the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service’s (NRCS) Wyoming Basin and Water Supply Outlook Report, published on April 1, shows Wyoming snow water equivalent (SWE) percentages across Wyoming at 90 percent of median. 

NRCS notes the Laramie River Basin reported the highest SWE at 125 percent of median, and the lowest SWE was reported in the Cheyenne River Basin at 19 percent of median.

The Cheyenne River Basin also had the lowest amount of precipitation for the month of April, reporting 67 percent of median, while the Sweetwater Basin reported the highest precipitation at 205 percent of median. 

NRCS further notes streamflow yields for basins across the state of Wyoming – except the Green, Little Snake and Cheyenne River basins – from April through September averaged 102 percent. 

These three exceptions had respective forecast median streamflow yields of 103 percent, 124 percent and 79 percent from April through July. 

Reservoir storage for the entire state of Wyoming averaged 104 percent of median, with all reported reservoirs near or above median. 

Reservoirs in the Belle Fourche, Cheyenne River and Lower Green River basins were at 97 percent, 98 percent and 100 percent respectively, while reservoirs in the Little Snake River, Big Horn River, Lower North Platte River and Upper Green River basins all reported 101 percent of median. 

Additionally, the Wind River Basin Reservoir, Buffalo Bill Reservoir and Upper North Platte River Basin Reservoir were above median at 105 percent, 112 percent and 115 percent, respectively. 

Hannah Bugas is the managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to

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