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Climate and Weather: What's the South Dakota Forecast?

The year 2023 brought global record-breaking temperatures that worsened natural disasters like wildfires, severe thunderstorms, and tornadoes. What can South Dakotans expect in the future?

Campus Park ice rink in February 2024 after early extended warm spell
Campus Park ice rink in February 2024 after early extended warm spell

According to the 2023 Yale Climate Opinion Maps, 65 percent of adult South Dakotans believe global warming will harm future generations. The same survey showed that 55 percent of South Dakotans think global warming is affecting the weather.

Warming planet, changing local weather

That reflects reality. The rapid rise of global temperatures leads to observable cascades of shifting climate patterns that impact our local weather conditions. One example is the increasing disruption to our jet stream, which generally “keeps a steady stream of weather systems” moving so that conditions only hang around for a few days before shifting. The result is increased length of local hot and dry spells, or extended stretches of cold and rain or snow.

Minnehaha County's average temperature rose by 1.6 degrees in the past century. Though 1.6 degrees may not sound significant, it's crucial to distinguish between weather and climate. Evidence from ancient climates, or "paleoclimates," shows natural climate changes without human influence.

The concern is the rapid and self-reinforcing warming of the Earth, which fundamentally changes the temperature difference between the poles and equator to slow or even break the jet stream. This planet-wide rise in temperatures accelerated by human activity is melting ice sheets and glaciers, flooding the oceans with fresh water, and threatening to seriously weaken or collapse the Gulf Stream. Burning fossil fuels changes the climate more than any other human activity.

“Without rapid and deep reductions in global greenhouse gas emissions ..., the risks of accelerating sea level rise, intensifying extreme weather, and other harmful climate impacts will continue to grow. Each increment of warming is expected to lead to more damage and greater economic losses ..., while the risk of catastrophic or unforeseen consequences also increases.”

Unexpected impacts on life in South Dakota

NOAA National Centers for Environmental Information states as its’ Key Message Number 1 for South Dakota, “Temperatures in South Dakota have risen almost 2 degrees F since the beginning of the 20th century, with warming concentrated in the winter and nighttime minimum temperatures increasing about twice as much as daytime maximums.”

Outdoor living

Elevated temperatures and air quality warnings have already limited outdoor activities. In general, a warmer climate means more rain than snow. Changes in snowfall impact winter recreation activities.

Great Bear Ski Valley in Sioux Falls, without enough snow and low temperatures, had to postpone its opening date to January 1st (2024). Because of frigid conditions, the Sioux Falls ice skating rinks waited to open until late January only to close in early February due to an extended warm spell.

Warmer and drier conditions last summer and fall contributed to larger and longer-lasting wildfires. Lingering smoke from Canadian wildfires affected air quality. Minnehaha County is experiencing increasing particle pollution, a key factor, along with ozone, in assessing air quality and understanding potential risks to your heart and lungs.

Travel safety and psychological health

Foggy morning in February 2024 on Southeastern Drive in Sioux Falls, South Dakota
Foggy morning in February 2024 on Southeastern Drive in Sioux Falls, South Dakota

Those chilly South Dakota days are becoming a bit more bearable. Less bundling up, shoveling snow, and navigating icy roads. A substantial change in minimum and maximum temperatures will affect us in more ways than we would like to imagine.

While the recent fluctuation from frigid temps and blowing snow to moderate temperatures is a welcome reprieve, the warmer southern breezes over the melting snow generate persistent foggy conditions.  Visibility for driving is down while the gloomy atmosphere can increase feelings of depression and isolation.

Gardens and crops

The frost-free season has increased by 1 to 2 weeks in the Midwest and Great Plains region. The 2023 USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map has moved Sioux Falls up to 5a from the previous zone 4b designation in 2012.  This seemingly small change represents a big shift for gardeners and landscapers.

Warmer temperatures and a longer growing season allow for multiple insect and weed populations to reproduce and attack within one year. More overwintering pests will survive and appear in the spring as winters become milder.

In South Dakota, common overwintering pests are boxelder bugs, stink bugs, and rodents. Additionally, expansion is possible to areas previously limited by colder temperatures.

Warmer and wetter weather creates conditions favorable for plant disease. Especially fungi, which thrive in moist environments. Over 19,000 are known to cause diseases in crop plants worldwide. The sheer number and evolving nature of pathogenic fungi make them difficult to control.

Drinking water and development

In snowy regions, winter droughts occur when there's a shortage of snowfall. South Dakota’s precipitation is highly variable from year to year and across the state. Snow is a vital water source, slowly releasing water as it melts in spring and summer.

The dry soil affects plant growth, groundwater, and the overall ecosystem. According to the South Dakota Department of Agriculture & Natural Resources, “Approximately 78% of all public water supplies in South Dakota obtain their drinking water from groundwater.” In other words, less water for municipal use and livestock.

On the other hand, the Midwest and Northeast regions have experienced more heavy rain events, which has increased flood risk with short-term drought potential between wet periods. Careful planning is needed for new development in the Big Sioux Watershed.

Utilities costs

South Dakotans need to expect rising costs in keeping a comfortable indoor temperature in their homes. A few key factors include general inflation, supply shortages, new regulations, and more extreme temperatures and weather events.

Upgrading heating and cooling systems and appliances for better energy efficiency  costs more upfront but results in long-term savings. Fortunately, the Investing in America plan provides rebates to assist both homeowners and renters.

Challenges require planning plus action

South Dakota faces complex challenges due to climate change, elevated temperatures, compromised air and water, and disruptions in agriculture among them. Adapting to an evolving climate will require ever greater care in planning

According to those 2023 Yale Climate Opinion Maps, 69 percent of South Dakotans support regulating CO2 as a pollutant. That high level of support for mitigating a top driver of planetary warming is vital, because this much is clear: South Dakota's future hinges on collective efforts to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions to protect our resources.

Heavy fog in a Sioux Falls Park in February 2024 during unseasonably warm temperatures melting heavy snow cover

106 views2 comments


Great article with well-done research!


Unknown member
Feb 12

I read this article with some concern about what is really happening because of climate change. Thank you for focusing on our local community.

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