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Top Weather Events Of 2012

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For those of us who call this region home, we can all agree that South Dakota gets its fair share of bizarre weather events. Whether it be extreme droughts, floods, tornadoes, blizzards, or whatever else Mother Nature throws at us; we’ve just about seen it all.

As for the year 2012, the first weather related events that may come to mind would probably be the lack thereof. From the time we rang in the new year of 2012, it seemed like winter was virtually non-existent. Then, when summer rolled around; our lack of snowfall turned into a lack of rainfall setting the stage for one of the worst droughts in history. In the middle of all that, some isolated locations got too much rainfall and record temperatures were broken all over the map, making this just another unique year in South Dakota’s history.

As we look back on the past 12 months, it’s impossible to size up each individual event to another when each and every one impacted lives, property, and pocket books in ways that just cannot be measured. Here’s our list of the top 10 weather events that impacted us in our region in no particular order.


In a state that is so heavily dependent on agriculture, this was easily one of the single weather events that will immediately come to mind when looking back on 2012. Each week, we updated our blog with the most recent drought monitors. Throughout the months of April and May, there were signs that drought conditions were beginning to worsen; but it wasn’t until late June when conditions went from bad to worst case scenario very quickly. By the end of August, the exceptional drought areas stopped expanding, but improvements had yet to come. It was an event that impacted more than just farmers, but every aspect of life here in our region whether directly or indirectly.

It wasn’t necessarily the worst drought on record, however. A drought is a unique weather event in that there are so many different factors that come to play. For example: If there was any rainfall, where did it fall? When did it fall? How did it fall? The precipitation figures can often be misleading because depending on how fast the rain came down and what time of year it was drastically affects whether its runoff is actually benefiting the soil. The fact is, there is a lot about this year’s drought that has yet to be analyzed and researchers will not know its full impacts for quite some time. Nevertheless, the growing season of 2012 will be remembered for years to come.


As if the drought wasn’t bad enough on this year’s growing season, the extreme heat was even worse. It didn’t just start at the beginning of the growing season. In fact, 2012 broke the record for the warmest first 6 months of the year in the Midwest. It started off with heat never seen before in the first 10 days of January.  Top that off with a record breaking March that was 15 to 20 degrees above average.  Then the summer added to the heat with the warmest lows we have seen in over 100 years plus more 100 degree days than we have experienced since the 80's.  Every month except October was above average in 2012.  Looking back at each month’s temperatures compared to average really puts this year’s record warmth into perspective.


The mind blowing statistics of the winter and spring only continued through the summer as our lack of rainfall got worse. Since daytime temperatures are dependent on the reflection and absorption of the sun’s rays off the surface, the lack of ground moisture made it difficult for temperatures to stay around average. As a result, we managed to hit the century mark more than twice the number of times we would on average and certainly the most we have seen in recent memory.


As dry as 2012 was
, it’s hard to believe one of our cities dealt with an unforgettable flash flood that did major amounts of damage and an Alabama man visiting family even lost his life. On the weekend of May 4 and 5, torrential rain fell over the same areas across much of eastern South Dakota. By Sunday morning, it was clear that Madison was hardest hit when Memorial Creek turned into a raging river. Homes and several businesses were flooded with several feet of water standing in basements. These same storms were also major hail producers that seemed to line up right along the Hwy. 34 corridor.


For a state that is no stranger to tornadoes, there was an unusually small number of South Dakotans who were affected by twisters. This year, only 10 were reported in the entire state. That’s less than half the number of twisters we see on average which is about 28. Not only was this a calm year for tornadoes in South Dakota, but also for the entire country. Why? Well, it’s simple; and it all goes back to one of this year’s biggest weather headlines: the drought. Without moisture, thunderstorms will not develop; and of course, you can’t have a tornado without a thunderstorm. While there is an endless list of ways this year’s drought has impacted the people in our region, this is one we can be thankful for.


Strong wind is nothing unusual in South Dakota and the rest of the Great Plains. With a lack of thick vegetation to act as a wind blocker and rolling hills to accelerate winds across the fields, a typical breeze for us would be a strong wind for others. This event, however, even blew the minds of us South Dakotans as wind gusts topped tropical storm force across much of the region and even hurricane force west of the Missouri River. Low visibilities due to dust clouds forced Nebraska Department of Transportation to shut down a 100 mile stretch of Interstate 80 in western parts of the state while several semis were overturned near Belvidere, SD.


This is an event that may still be fresh on your mind. Only a few weeks before 2012 came to an end, a relatively strong blizzard affected parts of eastern South Dakota. The hardest hit areas were along Highway 14, including Brookings where final exams were postponed for many SDSU commuters. Large portions of interstates 90 and 29 were closed to all traffic in response to the low visibilities. While it was an inconvenience for many that weekend, it was welcome in the light of this year’s drought.


You may have forgotten this after our extremely dry summer. We certainly benefited from some of this rainfall. There were just a couple of things wrong with it. First of all, it all fell at the same time causing most of it to run off to rivers and streams before it could soak into the ground. Secondly, the majority of the rainfall was concentrated over the same locations leaving other areas dry. Our southeastern counties saw the majority of this rainfall. In fact, when you look at the storm reports through much of May and even into the first couple of weeks of June; all the thunderstorms that produced any significant rainfall developed roughly in the same exact areas of NW Iowa, SW Minnesota, and extreme SE South Dakota.


In the middle of this year’s drought stricken summer, one severe thunderstorm developed over the small town of Hills in extreme southwestern Rock County, Minnesota dumping heavy rain over the same areas for about three hours. Farmers had been praying for rain for a while, but it only brought more destruction to area crops. Along with the heavy rain that left many fields under water, some of the crops were pelted with hail for the entire duration of the event, flattening the already dried up crops and covering people’s front lawns. The storm also blew trees down along city streets and affected the nearby community of Steen, MN before dissipating.


In the middle of a year with little activity on the radar, all three radar sites were upgraded with new technology that makes severe weather and winter weather analysis much easier. For years, our radars have been able to analyze cloud droplets vertically, but with the new dual-polarization radar upgrade, the radar is able to look at these droplets both vertically and horizontally. This new view give a three dimensional look at the storms in our area allowing meteorologists a better view of what’s occurring in the skies above. In one of our recent blog posts posted on December 16, you can find out more about how some of these new products are used in winter weather events.

As always, we will continue to bring you the most up-to-date information on the weather that affects you each and every day. From the KDLT Weather Center, we would like to wish you a very happy and prosperous 2013.
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