According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), 2012 marked the warmest year on record for the contiguous United States. The year began with above-average temperatures and limited snowfall followed by an unusually warm spring. In turn, the warm spring resulted in an early start to the 2012 growing season in several places, which increased the loss of moisture from soil. These elements, in combination with other factors, helped lay the foundation for the drought conditions experienced by a significant portion of the U.S. in 2012.
The extreme temperatures and drought have had noticeable impacts on the Missouri River. In March of 2012 water temperatures in the Lower Missouri warmed quickly, reaching spawning temperatures for many fish species far earlier than usual. The following month, Comprehensive Sturgeon Research Project (CSRP) biologists documented a pallid sturgeon spawning event that was approximately four to six weeks early compared to previous spawning events (See previous posts “Rising Temperature” and “An Early Spawning Record”). Drought conditions have continued and resulted in low river levels into 2013. Unusually low river conditions have the potential to create hazardous situations for our tracking boats through the winter including exposed sand bars and rock formations, ice flows, and unusable boat ramps. With this in mind, CSRP biologists have been making extra efforts to ensure crew safety by monitoring river and weather conditions, closely.
The drought conditions that affect the Missouri River Basin will likely persist through winter and into spring, but CSRP biologists will be ready for whatever the weather brings.