Rains offer slice of relief from summer drought

·4 min read

Jul. 8—South Dakotans received a brief reprieve from the dry conditions across the state this week as much-needed rain fell throughout the area, with some locations seeing as much as three inches of precipitation.

But there is a long way to go before drought conditions are overcome, according to the National Weather Service in Sioux Falls.

"It's unfortunate, but we are pretty down," said Matthew Meyers, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service.

Mitchell has received 0.96 inches of rain since Sunday. That's comparable to the 0.64 inches received in Sioux Falls and the 0.67 inches received in Huron. Chamberlain received 3.02 inches between Sunday and Thursday.

That was a nice shot of badly-needed precipitation, Meyers said, but there is still a long way to go before the extremely dry conditions, which stem from a dry winter and lack of rain in the spring, abate.

According to the National Weather Service in Sioux Falls, Mitchell has received 7.97 inches of precipitation this year as of Sunday. That's 3.03 inches below the year-to-date average, and it's similar to conditions in the surrounding area. Huron has seen 6.86 inches of precipitation and is still 5.82 inches below normal. Sioux Falls, which received 9.53 inches so far this year, is 5.34 inches below normal. And Chamberlain, with 9.12 inches so far this year, is still 4.28 inches below what is typically seen at this point in the year.

Those shortfalls are significant at the halfway point of the year, Meyers said, especially considering that late spring and early summer usually sees a good portion of the year's total precipitation fall.

"It's fairly considerable, because climatologically, mid-May through June is the peak wet season, and that was fairly below average," Meyers said. "It's something we're keeping an eye on because we know how much it affects everyone."

Drought conditions in the state have worsened over the course of 2021. All of South Dakota remains in some stage of drought conditions, according to the United States Drought Monitor. The most recent report from the organization, dated July 6, indicates that Mitchell, portions of the Missouri River Valley and Charles Mix and Gregory counties have been moved from D2 to D3 status, indicating extreme drought.

An area ranging between Hartford, Sioux Falls, Dell Rapids and Salem is also experiencing drought at extreme levels. The north central portion of the state, including portions of Corson, Campbell, McPherson, Edmunds, Walworth, Dewey, Potter and Faulk counties, are also under D3 classification.

The majority of the rest of the state falls under D2 status, or severe drought.

Farmers are already feeling the effects of the dry conditions. In its latest crop condition report, the United States Department of Agriculture has indicated that topsoil moisture levels rated 46% at very short, 46% at short, 8% at adequate and 0% at surplus. Subsoil moisture is seeing 40% report very short, 49% short, 11% adequate and 0% surplus. In the same report, the USDA said most corn — 50% — is rated in fair condition. For soybeans, fair is also the dominant condition at 47%.

Oats were the only crop that had a rating above 0% in the excellent category at 1%. For pasture land, 53% is reported in poor condition and 21% is reported in very poor condition.

Some communities, such as Mitchell and Freeman, have implemented watering restrictions to help ease the effects of the shortage.

The recent rains certainly helped the situation, but the long term forecast doesn't suggest more relief coming anytime soon. More rain was possible Thursday night into Friday morning, with thunderstorms potentially developing in the far eastern portion of the state.

"The next wave will be from 9 p.m. (Thursday) until 7 a.m or 8 a.m. in the morning. (Storms) may develop over Sioux Falls and Brookings and down to Storm Lake. There may be some damaging winds up to 50 or 60 miles per hour and hail up to a quarter of half-dollar in size," Meyers said.

Estimates suggest some areas may see as much as an additional half-inch of rain, depending on location.

"If you get the core of the storm, you could get a little more than that," Meyers said.

In addition, there is a slight chance for morning showers on Saturday, but the rest of the two-week outlook suggests little precipitation at this time.

Even without rain in the immediate forecast, Meyers encouraged residents to keep an eye on Sioux Falls National Weather Service social media accounts, a weather radio and any other resources that allow you to monitor severe weather when it strikes. Forecasts may not indicate rain at the moment, but that can change quickly in South Dakota, and severe weather can often follow on short notice.

"(Keep an eye on the NWS) social media — Facebook, Twitter. That's where we get the message out most frequently. We'll always post severe warnings and watches and people will know about it," Meyers said.

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