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Northwest Rangelands, Weather and Climate

Rangelands in shrub steppe of the Inland Northwest support livestock via a wide diversity of plant species. Locally, large amounts of bare ground contribute to the relative fragility of rangeland ecosystems, making them especially sensitive due to local rainfall events, drought, extreme heat and lack of snow pack. Future climate projections indicate warmer temperatures and variable precipitation, which can lead to drought, heat stress to rangelands; increases in pests, disease and wildfire, and decreases in seasonal snowpack. Ranchers in the Northwest are accustomed to water limitations on pastures, however future climate projections are more extreme than previously experienced causing ranchers to identify and implement strategies to feed and water livestock in water-limited areas.

Dry, cold grasslands in Alaska exist in areas with permafrost. Permafrost is ground that is frozen for two or more years and can be covered with an "active layer" that freezes and thaws annually and can cause damage to infrastructure like roads and fences. Rising temperatures have already begun to melt permafrost, causing observed increases in active layer depth. Future climate projections show an increase in areas without permafrost, which will increase winter stream flows, decrease summer peak flowers, stream water temperature and change water chemistry.  

Unlike weather (what's happening outside now), the climate describes long-term average conditions across many weeks, seasons, years and decades. So producers and land managers can use climate predictions to plan for the future and continue to adjust management decisions to ensure sustainable, productive landscapes in the face of change. Rangeland restoration can maintain sustainable and productive rangelands and improve the resilience of rangelands to changes in climate. Across working landscapes, the goals are to maintain sustainable and productive systems and decrease the risks from variable weather.

Current conditions and outlooks

Drought Monitor

The U.S. Drought Monitor is produced through a partnership between the National Drought Mitigation Center at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, the United States Department of Agriculture, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The Drought Monitor summary map identifies general drought areas, labeling droughts by intensity, with D1 being the least intense and D4 being the most intense. A D0 drought watch includes areas that are either drying out and possibly heading for drought, or are recovering from drought but not yet back to normal or suffering long-term impacts such as low reservoir levels.

National Weather Service

The National Weather Service provides information on current conditions, current hazards, forecasts and historical weather for Alaska and the continental US.

Northwest Climate Toolbox

The Northwest Climate Toolbox has a collection of data visualization tools for looking at recent observed conditions, seasonal forecasts, and long-term climate predictions in the Northwest and continental US. One suite of tools within the Northwest Climate Toolbox focuses on climate tools relevant to wildfire applications.

Weekly Weather and Crop Bulletin

The Weekly Weather and Crop Bulletin (WWCB) is jointly prepared by the U.S. Department of Commerce, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The WWCB provides a weekly pasture and range condition report. The WWCB provides a vital source of information on weather, climate and agricultural developments worldwide, along with detailed charts and tables of agrometeorological information that are appropriate for the season.  The most current issue can be found here. The Bulletin is posted every Tuesday by 4:00 p.m. (ET). Posting will be delayed to the next business day when federal offices are closed.

Western Regional Climate Center

The Western Regional Climate Center (WRCC) is a cooperative program between NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information (NCEI) and the Desert Research Institute (DRI). WRCC helps explain climate and its impacts in the western US and provide practical solutions to specific climate problems.