Spring Rains Relieve Drought

Kevin Vang flycasting for pike in a North Dakota lake, with his Lab, Tori, giving moral support. Note how brown the hillside is.

It wasn’t exactly a pleasant afternoon. There was a cold rain coming down, and a stiff wind didn’t make it feel any better.

I was wading and casting big streamers on a shallow bay on Lake Audubon, an extension of Lake Sakakawea, the giant impoundment of the Missouri River in west-central North Dakota. My fishing companion was our son, Kevin Vang, who lives in Minot, North Dakota.

While conditions were a bit on the miserable side, I didn’t dare complain. The rain coming down was life, itself.

A few days earlier, we’d driven across Montana and western North Dakota on the I-90/94 corridor, just ahead of a predicted stormy, snowy weather system that would bring heavy snow to many areas of western Montana.

 On our drive east, we were struck by how greener things were from Livingstone and points east. Obviously, there had been more precipitation that what we’d been having in Butte. Then we were struck by how quickly the green conditions changed as we approached Miles City, and the further east we got, the drier things were.

 Usually, when we make this trip in springtime, the high plains of Montana and North Dakota are a lush green from spring rains. This time, it was mostly brown, with just scattered patches of green. There was also a constant smell of dust in the air, even through the car’s ventilation system.

 The morning after we arrived, I went outside with our Lab, Kiri, for her morning constitutional, and it was cloudy, cold and windy, plus there was more than a little smoke in the air, coming from fires in northern Manitoba. The grass in Kevin’s backyard was brown and lifeless. It seemed just plain bleak, with the combination of everything. Kevin said the north-central areas of North Dakota were officially under “extreme” drought conditions.

The weather improved in the afternoon and Kevin and I went fishing on a lake that was sheltered from the wind. The clouds moved out and we had bright sunshine and warmer temperatures that made things feel much better, even if the fish weren’t cooperating.

It rained about half an inch that night, which cleared the air of smoke and dust, though it was still chilly and windy enough that we didn’t feel inclined to go fishing. More rain fell that evening. On our last day in Minot, Kevin and I went fishing again, driving into the rain on our way to the lake. Kevin was the champion angler of the day, catching a nice smallmouth bass. I never had a bite, but that’s fishing. Actually, over many decades of fishing together, that has been the pattern, with one of us having good luck while the other person looks on with envy.

 Even with rain gear, we started to feel wet and chilled and ready to quit, but we had to wait for a break in the rainshowers, so we wouldn’t get soaked while changing out of our waders. We got that break and we packed up and hit the road.

More rain fell that night. But, after several days of cold, wet, windy weather, the skies were clear in early morning, and it even felt relatively warm. We hit the road for Montana in golden sunshine, and we marveled at the changes on the prairie. Over the weekend the fields had turned green after the rains. There was water in puddles here and there.

On our trip back home, we were happy to see new green growth in eastern Montana, as well as in North Dakota. That new growth was apparent all the way to Butte, where snow fell every day we were gone.

 It would be a mistake to think that the drought is over. We still are in need of more precipitation to bring us current with long-term averages.

 Nevertheless, the precipitation, here in Montana and points east, was a life-giving bounty for our forests and plains, and for crops, wildlife, and the farmers and ranchers that depend on the weather for survival.

 Paul Vang’s new book, “Golden Years, Golden Hours,” is available at How Novel, The Second Edition, Isle of Books & Books, or online at http://writingoutdoors.com.

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