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, increase pests and disease, exacerbate the effects of low snowpack, an increase in wildfires. Ranchers in the Northwest are accustomed to water limitations on pastures, however future climate projections are more extreme than previously experienced causing rancher to identify and implement strategies to feed and water livestock in water-limited areas.

Dry, cold grasslands in Alaska, exists in areas with permafrost. Permafrost is ground, sediment or rock, frozen for two or more years that can be covered with an active layer, which freezes and thaws annually. With increases in temperatures permafrost will melt causing an increase in the active layer, which has already been observed. 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.  

Climate is a long-term average across many weeks, seasons, years and decades. So with climate predictions, producers and land managers can plan for the future and continue to adjust our management decisions to ensure sustainable, productive landscapes in the face of a changing climate. 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 lower risks of impacts due to variable weather. The difference between weather and climate is timescales. Weather occurs in the minutes, hours, days and a couple weeks, whereas climate refers to long-term averages of many weeks, seasons, years, and decades.

Current conditions and outlooks

Drought Monitor

The 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. D0, drought watch areas that are either drying-out and possibly heading for drought, or are recovering from drought but not yet back to normal, 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 and the .

Northwest Climate Toolbox

The has a collection of data visualization tools for looking at recent, observed conditions, season forecasts as well a 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 (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 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 Bulletin 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 (WRCC) is a cooperative program between NOAA’s (NCEI) and the (DRI). WRCC helps to better explain climate and its impacts in the Western US and provide practical solutions to specific climate problems.