Sunday, May 12, 2013

Weather in South Dakota

Today is Saturday, May 11, 2013.

That's right, folks, just now the temperature is 39˚F (4˚C).  High temp was 55˚F (13˚C).  Tonight we have a freeze warning.  Yes! It's going to get down to 32˚F (0˚C).  Earlier this evening I covered my raised box garden with a sheet, with my dad's help.  We also covered Mom's box gardens and Dad took in all her potted flowers. 

I suppose we shouldn't be surprised.  After all, our last snowfall of the year occurred on May 3, just eight days ago!  This is definitely not normal.  The average temperatures in May are generally around 70˚F (46˚C).  (The photo of snow below was taken in Sioux Falls on Christmas Day 2010, but it could just as well have been taken in April 2013.)

Dec. 25, 2010 by "Grizzly One"
South Dakota is a pretty big state.  It's 380 miles (61155 km) from west to east and 210 miles (337.96 km) from north to south.  The whole state experiences hot summers, cold winters, and extremely windy weather in all seasons.  Blizzards in are common in winter, and severe thunderstorms and tornadoes are common between May and September.  Drought also plagues the state from time to time, because it gets much less precipitation than other agriculturally-reliant states, so any decrease in precipitation can lead to crop failure.  Last year, (2012) was a case in point.  We went into drought mode as early as last spring, and we are actually still in drought mode - only the situation is not quite as bad now as it has been in months past.

Tornado in South Dakota in late May 2010
This has been a bad spring for snow - well, good for the drought, but bad for people who drive to work, which is just about everybody.   Our last snowfall, as I mentioned earlier, was on May 3.  April 11 brought us a huge, crippling ice storm that resulted in extreme damage to many trees.  Sioux Falls, 5 miles west of here, was hit particularly badly, and there are still piles of tree branches sitting out along the side of the streets that are being hauled away.  The pile of branches from trees in Brandon is higher than a house, and they haven't finished  picking up all the branches here, either.

There are two distinct climate areas in South Dakota.  The northwestern and central part of the state has a semi-arid steppe climate, with low annual precipitation and lots of sunshine.  The eastern half of the state, plus the Black Hills area in the extreme west and southwest experiences humid continental climate, with moderate humidity and precipitation which is distributed fairly uniformly, on average, year-round.  

Summer temperatures can go over 100˚F (37.7˚C).  The hottest ever recorded was on July 5, 1936, at 120˚F (49˚C).  The July average is 74˚F (23˚C) but last year on July 6 we had 103˚F (39.4˚C) - the average for that day of the year is 84˚F (28.8˚C).

Winter temperatures often dip below freezing (32˚F, 0˚C) and quite often go below 0˚F (-17.7˚C).  January isn't necessarily the coldest month, but the average for January is 12˚F (-11˚C).  The coldest temperature on record was -58˚F (-50˚C) on February 17, 1936. (That was some weather year, with the hot and cold records recorded in the same year.) 

The year 2012 was the warmest year on record in the United States.  It was the second most extreme year, with Hurricane Isaac and Superstorm Sandy, plus huge outbreaks of tornadoes across the Great Plains.  There were a total of 11 "disasters" in 2012 that caused over $1 billion in damage.  Lack of rain contributed to widespread drought.  When I visited the Black Hills in early September, the one thing that was stressed to tourists over and over again was the extreme danger of wildfires.  Camping areas had a strict ban on fires, even inside camping lodges. 

Here is a drought map for February 2013.  As you can see, the entire state was suffering from drought, with at least 2/3 of the state in extreme to exceptional drought.  Sioux Falls, located in southeastern South Dakota, is the largest city in the state.  It is 5 miles west of Brandon, where I live.  If you click on this map, you can see that Sioux Falls was in the "extreme drought" area, with exceptional drought just south of us.  You can also see that just west of Rapid City experienced exceptional drought.  That is the area that includes Mount Rushmore, the mountain that has four U.S. Presidents' faces carved into it.

The current drought map shows that we are still experiencing a drought, but as you can see, conditions are improved from February.  We have all that spring snow to thank for this.  Sioux Falls, which is marked with a red dot in this second map, is now in the "severe drought" area rather than the "extreme drought" area.  I can't imagine that it will be very good news to the farmers, however, unless we get a lot more rain, and that's not in the long-range forecast.

The picture below shows the damage to corn crops in the summer of 2012 because of the drought. 
Image credit: Myriam Moran 2012

The summer is supposed to bring us slightly cooler than normal temperatures, with near-normal rainfall.  Considering that we are still in drought mode, it looks like we will have a poor harvest again this year.  We are slated for fewer tornadoes than normal this year.  September and October are supposed to be warmer than normal.  We should get less snow next winter, which will not do anything to help the general drought. Campers may have to skip making campfires again this summer, and that means no toasted marshmallows. 

My garden should be OK, as long as I water it well.  The cooler weather will help some.  :-/

No comments: