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Hydrologist Sizes-Up South Dakota's Drought

July 13, 2012, 9:56 PM by Perry Groten

Hydrologist Sizes-Up South Dakota's Drought

This summer's drought has the potential of being one for the record books in South Dakota. 

Just about every farmer in drought-stricken areas will tell you the same thing: this is the worst they've seen conditions since the historic drought of 1988.  But history doesn't have to repeat itself, if Mother Nature will only cooperate.

Drought conditions are prolonging the misery in fields across KELOLAND.  But experts call this dry spell a flash drought because of the sudden spike in spring temperatures that have dragged on through the summer, during a crucial part of the growing season.

"Right now, we're at a peak time, a very critical time for the crops, the corn crop right now, if we don't see some rain in the next one to three weeks, a lot of reduced yields, if not totally wiping out the corn crop in certain areas," National Weather Service Hydrologist Mike Gillispie said.
That kind of devastation would be reminiscent of the drought of 1988 that caused billions of dollars in crop losses throughout the Midwest.

"It was very similar to this, it was just incredibly hot during the summer months, it increased the water demand, the rain just never happened, we'd see some clouds coming around but they wouldn't produce any significant rainfall," Gillispie said.

Gillispie says we could see a repeat of 1988 if this summer's dry conditions persist.  But South Dakota farmers may have one weather factor in their favor.  Rainfall totals haven't cratered far below normal this year, so some timely showers could help the crops rebound.

"You can get a widespread one to two inches of rain with areas getting three to four inches of rain which could really help replenish some soils and give the crops the moisture they need at this time.  But the bad news is right now, it doesn't look like we're in a weather pattern to see that for at least the next ten to 14 days," Gillispie said.

Without that rainfall within the next couple of weeks, we could see unwanted history in the making with farm fields struggling through the driest conditions in nearly a quarter-century.

Gillispie says at this time of year, the soil needs as much as a quarter to a half-inch of moisture a day to ensure a healthy crop.

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