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Haidlee Hanson, 4, left, and Shaylee Hanson, 5, play in a small pool at their grandmother Beverly Hanson’s house in Mitchell as the high temperature reached 98 degrees July 20, 2011. (Daily Republic file photo)

SD has sixth largest gap between temperature records

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news Mitchell, 57301
Mitchell South Dakota 120 South Lawler 57301

Lee Johnson got into the heating and cooling business in South Dakota partially because of its high demand.

“For most of the year, it’s go, go, go,” said Johnson, 40, owner of Johnson Heating and Cooling, based in Alexandria.

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Johnson — who has been running his business for 10 years — said most of his service calls come during the changing of the seasons. Lately, with the frigidly cold air that’s been parked over the state, Johnson and his crew have been making sure household furnaces are working smoothly.

In South Dakota, like most Northern Plains states, it is important for furnaces and air conditioners to work properly. According to research by the National Climatic Data Center, South Dakota is tied with Idaho for the sixth widest gap in the nation between record high and low temperatures. South Dakota’s gap is 178 degrees.

The state’s all-time high, recorded July 1936 in Gann Valley, is 120. The state’s all-time low was 58 below zero in February 1936 in McIntosh.

Montana has the widest gap between record high and low temperatures at 187 degrees. Utah is second at 186, Wyoming and North Dakota are tied for third at 181 degrees, and Alaska (180) and California (179) are fourth and fifth.

“If you look at most of those states, the one thing a lot of them have in common is they’re far away from any large water body,” said Dennis Todey, South Dakota state climatologist. “Places with large water bodies, they won’t heat up as much and won’t cool down as fast because of the moisture in the air.”

This winter’s cold temperatures, though notably chilly, haven’t come close to the state’s all-time low record.

Mitchell hit a low temperature of 13 below zero Monday morning with a wind chill around 40 below. It was the coldest temperature recorded so far this year in the city and is one of six days when the low was at or below zero.

The beginning of 2014 continued a cold trend that carried over from the end of 2013. Earlier this winter, Mitchell broke a 105-year-old record when the temperature reached 18 below zero, which became the coldest temperature recorded in town on Dec. 7. That was also the coldest day recorded in Mitchell in 2013.

Only three months earlier was the warmest day of 2013 in Mitchell, hitting 96 degrees each day on Aug. 25, 27 and 29, a difference of 114 degrees from that December low.

That’s characteristic of life on the Northern Plains. Adnan Akyuz, state climatologist in North Dakota, said there is only one other place in the world that compares to the temperature ranges like those experienced here.

“It’s Siberia, Russia,” he said.

Mitchell’s recent gap between high and low temperatures peaked in 2009 at 123 degrees. The high that year was 98 on May 19 and the low was 25 below on Jan. 15. There was a temperature gap of 113 degrees in 2012 and 121 degrees in 2010 and again in 2011.

“Some people in South Dakota like to say they can survive the harshness,” Todey said. “There’s also something to be said about enjoying the variability to seasons.”

According to the National Weather Service, Mitchell’s temperatures are expected to continue rising this weekend. Today’s high is expected to be in the low 30s, Saturday and Sunday will be in the mid- to high 40s, and Monday is expected to be around 40.

Todey said this winter will continue to be colder than average. But he added the season won’t likely return to the extended sub-freezing temperatures that have seemed to overtake South Dakota so far.

“I shudder to think about experiencing these temperatures before there were modern climate systems like we have today,” Todey said.

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