Widely scattered rain in the past week made an impact on the U.S. Drought Monitor. But still, many producers are unsure about their next steps.

Calli Thorne ranches north of Watford City, N.D., with her husband. They got about an inch of rain May 23-24; some people not far from them in Keene, N.D., reported 3 or 4 inches.

"We're certainly all happy we got a little rain," she said.

WDAY meteorologist John Wheeler said it was the "first real rainfall" for the year for much of the western Dakotas.

"It was a nice rain, but not really a drought buster," he said.

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Wheeler said many places received less rain than Doppler radar indicated because dry air caused much of the moisture to evaporate before hitting the ground. However, what did fall led to "very modest improvement" in some areas on the U.S. Drought Monitor, including southwestern North Dakota, he said.

Other places, like north central and northeastern North Dakota, Minnesota and north central Iowa, are getting drier.

Map of North Dakota on the U.S. Drought Monitor as of May 25, released May 27. (U.S. Drought Monitor)
Map of North Dakota on the U.S. Drought Monitor as of May 25, released May 27. (U.S. Drought Monitor)

The rain that fell did green up some pastures and replenish some soil moisture in the western Dakotas, Wheeler said.

The Thornes already had sold off a lot of their cows before calving, more from a business decision than a drought one. However, now that forage production appears to be low, that decision looks particularly smart.

The Thornes also have sold four loads of yearling calves that usually would run on grass. That freed up pasture for some heifers and cattle they have on shares. They usually custom background calves at their feedlot during the summer but decided to turn down their customer this year to preserve feed for winter, just in case.

Now people have to make hard decisions, including whether to forego planting cash crops so that more ground can be used for forage.

"You feel like your hands are tied," Thorne said.

Wheeler said the forecast for the coming weeks does hold chances for some thunderstorms. But he cautions that those are likely to be scattered, with some areas getting ample rains while other areas will be disappointed. Plus, as the weather turns warmer in June, evaporation becomes more of an issue.

With that, drought conditions are likely to get slightly worse.

"We're probably going to rely mostly on luck," Wheeler said. "Individual farmsteads, individual ranches are going to need luck to get the timing and the placement of those rains. In other words, you have to get yourself under the right cloud and hope that it produces if you are in need of rainfall."

Map of the U.S. Drought Monitor as of May 25, released May 27. (U.S. Drought Monitor)
Map of the U.S. Drought Monitor as of May 25, released May 27. (U.S. Drought Monitor)
Here is a state-by-state look at this week’s drought monitor:

Iowa: Iowa’s drought conditions were relatively unchanged from last week. Severe drought conditions came in at 7.62%. Moderate drought conditions are at 29.54%. Abnormally dry conditions came in at 25.04%.

Minnesota: After conditions worsened slightly in Minnesota last week, things got a little better this week. The state’s moderate drought rating declined 6.5 points to 13.24%. The state has 59.78% of land in the abnormally dry rating, with 26.79% not experiencing drought conditions. A tiny portion — 0.18% — is in a severe drought.

Montana: Montana’s results were relatively unchanged from last week. The state has 15.56% of land in extreme drought. Severe drought consists of 15.13%, while 29.78% is under a moderate drought. Montana is 25.05% abnormally dry with just 14.48% of the state not experiencing any drought conditions.

Nebraska: Nebraska has enjoyed a nice decline in drought condition rates over the last few weeks. The Cornhusker State has just 2.15% in moderate drought and 36.30% is abnormally dry. The majority of the state — 61.55% — is not experiencing drought conditions.

North Dakota: Spotty showers in North Dakota last week gave some areas of the state a small bit of reprieve from the intense drought conditions. A chunk of the state's southwest corner, 8%, went from extreme drought conditions to severe conditions. Still, 59.03% of the state is categorized in an extreme drought; 16.28% is now in a severe drought. Moderate drought and abnormally dry conditions were relatively unchanged at 5.87% and 1.14%, respectively.

South Dakota: Extreme drought conditions were cut in half in South Dakota. The extreme or D3 rating declined from 20.73% to 10.38%. Severe drought conditions came in at 22.50%, compared to 17.45% last week. Abnormally dry conditions accounted for 42.34% with abnormally dry conditions at 19.19%.

Wisconsin: Drought conditions in Wisconsin were also relatively unchanged. Acres experiencing no drought are at 49.33%, up from 45.74% last week. Abnormally dry conditions came in at 26.49%. Moderate drought conditions are at 24% with severe drought at 0.18%