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Heavy snowfall this winter could bust long-term drought


It’s been a long winter in South Dakota, but all this snow is adding up to something special.

At the Rapid City National Weather Service office, meteorologist Keith Sherburn said the state’s bone-dry soil is finally getting a reprieve.

“Long-term we’re still in a little bit of a deficit, but so far this water year - which began in October – we’re actually doing pretty well," Sherburn said. "This time of year, during the winter, we don’t tend to get a lot of our annual precipitation, but nonetheless we’re quite a bit above normal for much of the area.”

The drought has already hammered one of South Dakotas most prominent industries.

“It’s been pretty tough for a lot of the ranching community out here, and the farmers East River as well, because they’ve been dealing with a little bit of a drought out there," Sherburn said. "Of course, last year during the water year we were also well above average, but things dried out into the spring and into the summer.”

But Sherburn said there is reason to be optimistic looking towards spring.

“I was speaking with our hydrologist today and she noted when we get out of a La Nina and towards more of an El Nino - which is how things are shaping up over the next couple of months – that tends to lead to a cooler spring and potentially a wetter spring," Sherburn said. "So, if this continues, then it will certainly make a dent in that drought, and we might see the drought removal entirely as we move into mid-to-late spring.”

El Nino and La Nina are yearly climate patterns in the Pacific Ocean that have a strong effect on weather in North America.

Currently, the US Drought Monitor lists the entire state as 'abnormally dry' at best. Large pockets of the state are currently listed at D2 'severe drought', and a small portion of Union County is listed at D3 'extreme drought.'

C.J. Keene is a Rapid City-based journalist covering the legal system, education, and culture
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