Daily Inter Lake: Funding for drought monitoring awarded to Montana

by Kate Heston

Montana will receive $5.5 million in federal funding for increased soil moisture and snowpack monitoring to help prepare for drought and wildfire conditions.

The funding, totalling $26 million across five states, is from the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration and comes from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.

The money will be invested over four years in the National Weather Service National Mesonet Program and the National Integrated Drought Information System to support the development of a partnership to improve early warnings for natural hazards like drought and fire.

Ideally, by using these funds, Montana will be able to accurately determine where drought is occurring by assessing drought conditions on a weekly basis.

“As Sharla and I wrap up another growing season on the family farm, we know that we are at the whims of mother nature,” said U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, who was among a bipartisan group of lawmakers who brokered the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act in 2022. “Extreme weather is forcing us to breathe in more smoke, it’s threatening Montana’s water supply, and it’s hitting our pocket-books – and having detailed and accurate forecasts is critically important to prepare for these events.”

Montana is one of five states to receive funding, alongside North Dakota, South Dakota, Wyoming and Nebraska. According to Tester’s office, the $5.5 million for Montana will support the operations and maintenance of the 205 stations that will be installed across the state by the Montana Climate Office by 2027.

Prior to this project, there were seven stations in Montana that were equipped with the technology needed to monitor drought conditions.

Region wide, the money will help install a total of 540 data stations across the Upper Missouri River Basin at elevations lower than 5,000 feet. Ideally, there will be one station for every 500 square miles.

The purpose of the study is the Upper Missouri River Basin but there is potential that the findings from the study could redefine monitoring overall across the country, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.