Dry fall has good and bad sides to itNo snow to plow — but fire risk is high and 2012 ag concerns growing.
By: Tom Lawrence, The Daily Republic
South Dakota has experienced one of the driest falls since records have been kept in the state.
Mike Gillispie, a NWS hydrologist based in Sioux Falls, said Sioux Falls saw the driest fall since records started to be kept in 1893. Only .87 inches of an inch of precipitation fell in the state’s largest city during September, October and November, which is considered the meteorological fall. Totals were compiled in the last few days.
The previous record was 1.02 inches, which fell in the fall of 1952. The average for autumn is 5.49 inches.
“There’s a handful sites across South Dakota that did experience their driest autumns on record or near driest,” Gillispie said. ”It was a very dry period there.”
Northwest Iowa and southwest Minnesota have also seen little rain or snow in the past three and a half months, he said.
“It’s just been a persistent dry pattern,” Gillispie said. “All the precipitation has gone south of here. The storm track’s just gone to the south of us.”
Texas and Oklahoma, which experienced hot, dry summers, have received abundant rain and, in some areas, snow this fall, he said..
The center of the country, Kansas and Nebraska, have been very wet this fall, Gillispie said.
But South Dakota has been dry, with little rain and almost no snow.
Dennis Todey, the state climatologist based at South Dakota State University, in Brookings, said he has been keeping a close eye on the dry conditions in the last three months.
“The driest areas right now are Sioux Falls up to east-central South Dakota and northeast,” Todey said. “That includes Brookings, Clear Lake, Watertown and Clark. If it’s not the driest fall on record, it’s in the top five driest falls.
“It is kind of strange how it has lined up,” he said. “I’m not sure what the pattern was that caused this.”
Northwestern South Dakota also recorded a dry fall, in some places seeing only half as much precipitation as normal, Todey said.
Montrose also saw its driest fall on record, with just 1.07 inches of moisture reported, nearly half as much as the previous record of 2.09 inches set in 1967.
Clark received 1.41 inches, edging the previous record of 1.44 set in 1935 and Clear Lake got just 1.26 inches, breaking the 1.60 inches set in 1964. Watertown tied the record set in 1935 with .93 inches of moisture during the three-month period.
Menno, Bryant, Flandreau and Madison had their second-driest falls and Centerville, Marion, Brookings and Victor had their third driest.
Alexandria, with just 1.22 inches of moisture, saw the fourth driest fall in the town’s record. Weather patterns can change in just a few miles, however.
Mitchell saw 2.45 inches of precipitation, making it the 22nd driest fall on record.
It’s the lowest amount of precipitation since automated equipment has been used to compile statistics, Gillispie said.
But longer term manual observations taken at the city water plant show 21 falls where less rain and snow was recorded.
Unusual fire danger
While construction crews have been able to keep going, since there is no snow to impede their work and temperatures have been in the 30s many days, there are other reasons to dislike the lack of snow.
Mitchell Fire Division Capt. Steve Nedved said on sunny, windy days, the fire danger is apparent.
“It’s just as bad now as it was in August, September and October,” Nedved said. “Especially for this late in the year, we’re getting grass-fire calls in December, which is almost unheard of. We’ve seen it before, but not to this degree. This moisture we’ve seen now is the first we’ve seen of any amount.”
The dry fall raises concerns about ground moisture levels for next year, Todey said.
The ground is now frozen or near frozen, he said, so that means little moisture will seep into the ground. If there isn’t a lot of snow this winter, it could cause problems for the 2012 crop season.
Scott VanderWal, who farms more than 1,000 acres as part of a family operation on the north edge of Volga in Brookings County, said there is a lot to be said for the dry fall.
The harvest went smoothly without wet fields and there was no need to use corn dryers before sending the crop to market, VanderWal said. They didn’t even turn their dryers on, which is a great savings for farmers.
“It gave us an opportunity to get a lot of fall work done,” he said. “Got fall tillage in and some guys were able to install tile for water management. So it was an opportunity to catch up.”
VanderWal is the president of the South Dakota Farm Bureau. He said while there is some concern about depleted subsoil moisture, all farmers can do is keep working and hope for a snowy winter.
“That’s one of the things you can’t control so you try to manage around it,” he said.
VanderWal said farmers have been saying if there has to be an extended dry period, this is a good time for it.
At the Mitchell Regional Department of Transportation Office, the dry fall has been a blessing.
“We have really been able to get a lot of things done that we wouldn’t have been able to without it being so dry,” said Mitchell Area Engineer Tammy Williams.
Employees have been busy tasks like replacing culverts and other road maintenance tasks, Williams said.
That kind of work wouldn’t generally be able to be done at this time of the year but the weather has provided an opportunity.
She did say once the snow starts flying, plows will be out in full force.
“We got everything set up and ready to go once it does start snowing,” Williams said.
Mitchell Public Works Director Tim McGannon said the relatively warm weather has allowed survey work to continue but it hasn’t changed other procedures.
“We had a big year but we’re pretty much done with our construction work,” McGannon said.
“Not really impacting us yet other than we’re not spending any money on snow removal yet.”
Heavy snowfall in the spring forced the Public Works Department to use all its 2011 snow removal budget. The City Council allocated additional funds in case snow fell in the closing weeks of the year, but so far it has gone untouched.
"If we have any money left it goes back to the city,” McGannon said. “It’s good news for the city. We’ll start a brand new budget on January 1.”
Gillispie said the current forecast calls for “above normal” snowfall for winter. However, with December, one of the three months in the meteorological winter, half over, that hasn’t happened yet.
“We went from last winter being extremely wet, a year and a half ago, and now a year and a half later, we’re talking about how dry it is,” he said. “I guess it averages out.”
A lot of people are also hoping for snow to fall before Dec. 24 but Gillispie said not much precipitation is expected in the new several days.
“It doesn’t look real great,” he said. “But we could end up with a white Christmas without getting a whole lot of snow.”
The Daily Republic's Chris Huber contributed to this report.