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An Environmental Overview of North Dakota: Past and Present


First, I would like to mention a little bit about climate, especially as it affects the biological environment. North Dakota may be considered a land of extremes climatically. Its location at the geographical center of the North American continent makes North Dakota climate an outstanding example of the continental climatic type. The climate is characterized by large annual, daily, and day-to-day temperature changes, and light-to-moderate precipitation that is highly seasonal, yet irregular within season in time and coverage. Humidity is relatively low, sunshine is plentiful, and air movement is nearly continuous.

The short 110-to-130 day freeze-free period, relatively low growing season temperatures of 54 to 62F. and extremely low winter temperatures preclude the production of many crops grown elsewhere in the United States. These factors also greatly limit the state's faunal and floral diversity.

About 75% of North Dakota's rather scant precipitation (mean 13-20 inches annually) falls during the period April through September. Were the precipitation more evenly distributed, very little agriculture would be possible. Most of the summer precipitation occurs during periods of thunderstorm activity. During winter, snowfalls are usually less than 1 inch at a time and total snowfall averages less than 3 feet annually. This poses serious problems for control of soil erosion during the fall, winter, and spring.

North Dakota is a windy state with an average wind velocity of almost 11 miles per hour. Peak winds occur in late winter and early spring, which further aggravates the problem of soil erosion. At Bismarck, which is the closest large city to the coal gasification plant, the winds prevail most often from a west-northwest direction, but there is a strong easterly component during May through August.

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