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Winter weather may pull South Dakota regions out of extreme drought conditions

Though the amount of snow received thus far in the season feels like an inconvenience, it might just pull South Dakota out of a multi-year long drought.

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A car sits in the ditch along Highway 37 on Wednesday, Jan, 4, 2023, after a blizzard drops 23 inches of snow.
Adam Thury / Mitchell Republic
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SIOUX FALLS — The National Weather Service of Sioux Falls issued a hazardous weather warning for the week of January 15.

According to the NWS, the hazardous weather outlook is for central, east-central, south-central, and south-east portions of South Dakota. Light snow is expected on Sunday, Jan. 15, and potential freezing rain or sleet might produce patchy ice on untreated surfaces.

An inch of snow has been predicted to hit on Monday, Jan. 16, with a 70% chance of precipitation before noon and potential freezing rain. There is also a slight chance of snow before midnight on Monday evening, with a northwest wind of up to 20 mph and gusts of up to 30 mph.

This sort of weather is not unfamiliar this winter season, with the upcoming storm predicted for Monday seeming relatively minor in comparison to the blizzard that struck the Mitchell area at the beginning of the new year, dumping a staggering amount of almost two feet of snow on the city.

According to NWS meteorologist Matthew Dux, the state is currently above average for amount of precipitation received at this point in the winter season.

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"The city of Mitchell has gotten just over 35 inches of precipitation so far in the season," Dux said. "That's the second-highest ever recorded, with the highest amount recorded being back in 1909."

"It's well above normal," Dux said, noting that the amount received this winter is pretty similar to that in 2009-10, when Mitchell area saw a little over 32 inches by mid-January.

While there's definitely many downsides to the snow, there's at least one upside: this winter's precipitation might just pull South Dakota out of a multi-year long drought.

Much of South Dakota has been under extreme drought conditions, with some parts of the southeastern region still falling into the Extreme Drought (D3) category of the U.S. Drought Monitor for South Dakota.

"The snow on the ground right now contains about three inches of liquid once melted down," Dux explained. "Unfortunately, we've had a pretty big deficit built up over the past couple years. Three inches will help the river levels improve; it'll help some of the subsoil moisture eventually, too, as the ground softens."

"The biggest question mark here is going to be: how quickly the snow melts," Dux said. "The ground underneath that snow is hard, frozen. If (the snow) melts fairly quickly, that will cause runoff into the streams and rivers — that will help those conditions, but it may not provide immediate relief to the moisture in the soil."

Another problem faced in the past has been flooding during the springtime, but Dux notes that, due to how dry the past few years have been, it's not a cause for concern at this time.

"Water levels, especially in the rivers and such, have been so low, and they'd have a long ways to go to be put into flood conditions," Dux explained. "There's quite a few mitigating factors, but, best case scenario is that we have a nice, slow melt of the snow over many days and weeks, getting a little bit of runoff into the rivers everyday. That way, the river levels will rise, but not get to flood level."

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Dux went with the optimistic-side of things, though, noting that the amount of snow the area has seen thus far is a step in the right direction to improving drought conditions. And, since the spring season is far from near, there's still time for even more precipitation to make an appearance.

"Our river levels are low, so we have a lot of space for that runoff to go to. I would say we won't know for sure what we're dealing with until the ground has thawed in the spring," Dux said. "We still have more winter ahead of us, so there's that potential for more snowfall."

"Three inches is a step in the right direction," Dux said.

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Related Topics: MITCHELLWEATHER
Cassie Williams joined the Mitchell Republic in July of 2022. To get in contact with Cassie about potential stories, feel free to email her at cwilliams@mitchellrepublic.com.
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