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State Climate Summaries


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South Dakota lies in the northern Great Plains, straddling the transition from the moist eastern United States to the semi-arid western United States. Due to its location in the center of the North American continent, far from the moderating effects of the oceans, the state experiences a wide range of temperature extremes. Average January temperatures range from less than 12°F in the northeast to more than 24°F in the southwest, while average July temperatures range from less than 64°F in Black Hills National Forest to more than 75°F in the south-central part of the state. Temperatures of 100° F or more occur nearly every year. The warmest year on record was 2012, with a statewide average annual temperature of 49.3°F, 4.7°F above the long-term average. The lack of mountain ranges to the north allows arctic air masses to enter the state frequently during the winter, bringing bitter cold spells.


Figure 1

Observed and Projected Temperature Change


Observed and projected changes (compared to the 1901–1960 average) in near-surface air temperature for South Dakota. Observed data are for 1900–2014. Projected changes for 2006–2100 are from global climate models for two possible futures: one in which greenhouse gas emissions continue to increase (higher emissions) and another in which greenhouse gas emissions increase at a slower rate (lower emissions). Temperatures in South Dakota (orange line) have risen almost 2°F since the beginning of the 20th century. Shading indicates the range of annual temperatures from the set of models. Observed temperatures are generally within the envelope of model simulations of the historical period (gray shading). Historically unprecedented warming is projected during the 21st century. Less warming is expected under a lower emissions future (the coldest years being about 2°F warmer than the long-term average; green shading) and more warming under a higher emissions future (the hottest years being about 16°F warmer than the long-term average; red shading). Source: CICS-NC and NOAA NCEI.

Since the beginning of the 20th century, temperatures in South Dakota have risen approximately 2°F (Figure 1). Temperatures in the 2000s have been warmer than any other historical period, with the exception of the early 1930s Dust Bowl era, when poor land management likely exacerbated hot summer temperatures. This warming has been concentrated in the winter and spring, while summers have not warmed much in the state, a feature characteristic of much of the Great Plains and Midwest (Figure 2). This is reflected in a below average occurrence of extremely hot days (days with maximum temperature above 100°F) (Figure 3a) and no overall trend in very warm nights (days with minimum temperature above 75°F) (Figure 3b). In addition, nighttime minimum temperatures have risen at about twice the rate of daytime maximum temperatures. The winter warming trend is reflected in a below average number of very cold nights (days with minimum temperature below 0°F) since 2000 (Figure 4). There has been an increase in absolute humidity, which may be contributing to the increasing nighttime maximum temperatures.

Figure 2

Figure 2a




Figure 2b




Figure 2: The observed winter (a) and summer temperature (b) for 1895–2014, averaged over 5-year periods; these values are averages are from NCEI’s version 2 climate division dataset. From 1995 to 2009, South Dakota experienced the warmest winter temperatures in the historical record. Since 2000, summer temperatures have been above average, although they have remained well below the extreme heat of the 1930s Dust Bowl era. The dark horizontal line on each graph is the long-term average (1895–2014) of 18.5°F (winter) and 69.7°F (summer). Source: CICS-NC and NOAA NCEI.

Figure 3

Figure 3a




Figure 3b




Figure 3c




Figure 3d




Figure 3: The observed (a) number of extremely hot days (annual number of days with maximum temperature above 100°F), (b) number of warm nights (annual number of days with minimum temperature above 70°F), (c) annual precipitation, and (d) summer precipitation, averaged over 5-year periods. The dark horizontal lines represent the long-term averages. The values in fFgures 3a and 3b are averages from 30 long-term reporting stations. The values in Figures 3c and 3d are from NCEI’s version 2 climate division dataset. Since 1990, the number of very hot days has been below the long-term average, while South Dakota has experienced an above average number of warm nights since 2000. Annual precipitation varies widely, but the most recent decade (2005–2014) has seen above average precipitation with no long-term trend observed in summer precipitation. Source: CICS-NC and NOAA NCEI.


Observed Number of Very Cold Days

Observed Number of Very Cold Days

Figure 4: The observed number of very cold days (annual number of days with maximum temperature below 0°F) for 1900–2014, averaged over 5-year periods; these values are averages from 30 long-term reporting stations. Since 2000, South Dakota has experienced a below normal number of extremely cold days, indicative of overall winter warming in the region. The dark horizontal line is the long-term average (1900–2014) of 2.8 days per year. Source: CICS-NC and NOAA NCEI.

Average annual total precipitation ranges from around 15 inches in the northwest to about 28 inches in the southeast. Statewide average annual precipitation has varied widely from year to year, ranging from a low of 10.90 inches in 1936 to a high of 27.97 inches in 1915. The driest multi-year period occurred in the 1930s, and the wettest in the late 1990s and from 2008 onward (Figure 3c). Annual precipitation has ranged from 15.47 inches during the driest 5-year period on record (1933–1937) to 23.20 inches during the wettest 5-yr period on record (2007-2011) . Most of the state’s precipitation falls during April to September when thunderstorm activity is highest (Figure 3d). The most severe of these storms can produce hail and tornadoes. While most of the state averages at least 30 inches of snow annually, portions of the Black Hills National Forest can receive upwards of 70 inches annually and South Dakota has generally experienced an increase in snowfall.

Like other states in the Great Plains, South Dakota experiences periodic episodes of severe drought, which can last for several years. One of the worst droughts in the state’s history was the 1930s drought of the Dust Bowl era, when dry conditions were exacerbated by extreme heat. Not only was 1936 the driest summer on record, with only 3.54 inches of precipitation (more than 4.5 inches below the long-term average), but it was also the hottest summer on record, with an average temperature of 76.4°F, 6.8°F above the long-term average. During the recent drought of 2012, South Dakota experienced its driest July–September, with only 2.86 inches of precipitation during the three-month period. Extreme heat waves alone can cause problems. In 2011, unusually warm and humid conditions in South Dakota took their toll on livestock and at least 1700 head of cattle perished.

Snowfall is highly variable from year to year. For example, the annual snowfall totals at Menno have varied from around 10 inches (in the winters of 1986–87 and 1999–2000) to near 70 inches (winters of 1959–60 and 1983–84) (Figure 5) and in the 2000s, from under 20 inches to near 50 inches (Figure 5). South Dakota’s northern location and proximity to the typical U.S. winter storm track makes it highly susceptible to the impacts of winter storm systems, including heavy snows, high winds, and low wind chill temperatures. In any given year, the probability of a blizzard occurring somewhere in the state is greater than 50%. On October 3–5, 2013, western South Dakota was hit by an early season blizzard. With reported wind gusts as high as 70 mph and widespread snowfall amounts of more than 20 inches, the storm was devastating. Among long-term weather observation stations, Lead reported one of the highest snowfall amounts with 55 inches over the 3-day period, 42 of which fell on October 4th. Rapid City reported 23.1 inches of snow, the second heaviest snowstorm on record for the city. It is estimated that more than 45,000 livestock died from the event, with some herds losing greater than 90% of their total populations.


Annual Snowfall Totals at Menno

Annual Snowfall Totals at Menno

Figure 5: Annual snowfall totals at Menno, SD. Winter season snowfall totals at Menno, in the eastern part of the state,vary widely from year to year. Since 2000, snowfall has ranged from less than 20 inches to nearly 50 inches, annually. Source: Midwestern Regional Climate Center.

With several large rivers running through the state, including the Missouri River, flooding is a great hazard for South Dakota. The frequency of heavy rain events has increased. Since 1990, South Dakota has averaged 14% more 1-inch rain events compared to the long-term average. (Figure 6). Some historic rain events have occurred in recent years. The state daily rainfall record (at official reporting sites) was set at Groton on May 6, 2007 with 8.74 inches. A near record amount of 8.43 inches occurred on June 16, 2014 at Canton. A devastating event occurred on June 9–10, 1972, when torrential rainfall (unofficially as much as 15 inches) fell overnight in the Black Hills area causing the Canyon Lake Dam to fail. The resulting flash flooding in Rapid City killed more than 200 people, injured more than 3,000, and destroyed 1,300 structures. Snowmelt can also cause severe flooding. In June 2011, runoff from a record winter heavy plains snowpack in the Rocky Mountains, along with heavy May rains in Montana, caused major flooding along the entire length of the Missouri River, causing several towns (including Pierre) to be evacuated and requiring rapid flood control measures. The extreme volume of water caused a long duration of flooding; below the Oahe Dam, the Missouri River at Pierre was above flood stage from May 24 to September 7.

Under a higher emissions pathway, historically unprecedented warming is projected by the end of the 21st century (Figure 1). Even under a pathway of lower greenhouse gas emissions, average annual temperatures are projected to most likely exceed historical record levels by the middle of the 21st century. However, there is a large range of temperature increases under both pathways, and under the lower pathway, a few projections are only slightly warmer than historical records. Increases in heat wave intensity are projected, but the intensity of cold waves is projected to decrease.


Observed Number of Extreme Precipitation Events

Observed Number of Extreme Precipitation Events

Figure 6: The observed number of extreme precipitation events (annual number of days with precipitation greater than 1 inch) for 1900–2014, averaged over 5-year periods; these values are averages from 32 long-term reporting sites. Since 1990, South Dakota has experienced an above average number of such events. The dark horizontal line is the long-term average (1900–2014) of 4.3 days per year. Source: CICS-NC and NOAA NCEI.

Annual precipitation is projected to increase, with the largest increases occurring during spring and winter (Figure 7). Increased winter and spring precipitation can have both positive and negative impacts on South Dakota’s agricultural economy, increasing available soil moisture but causing loss of nutrients and potentially delaying and preventing planting and resulting in loss of yield. Heavy precipitation events are also projected to increase, leading to increased runoff and flooding which can reduce water quality and erode soils. Increased winter snowfall, rapid spring warming, and intense rainfall can combine to produce devastating floods.

The intensity of droughts is projected to increase. Droughts are a natural part of the climate system and because the projected precipitation increases are expected to occur during the cooler months, South Dakota will remain vulnerable to periodic drought. Higher temperatures will increase the rate of loss of soil moisture during dry spells, leading to an increase in the intensity of naturally-occurring future droughts.


Projected Change in Winter Precipitation

Projected Change in Winter Precipitation

Figure 7: Projected changes in winter precipitation (%) for the middle of the 21st century compared to the late 20th century under a higher emissions pathway. Hatching represents areas where the majority of climate models indicate a statistically significant change. Winter precipitation is projected to increase by 10%–20%. South Dakota is part of a large area across the northern and central United States with projected increases in winter precipitation. Source: CICS-NC, NOAA NCEI, and NEMAC.

Lead authors:
Rebekah Frankson, Kenneth E. Kunkel
Contributing Authors:
Sarah Champion, David Easterling
Recommended Citation:
Frankson, R., K. Kunkel, S. Champion, and D. Easterling, 2017: South Dakota State Climate Summary. NOAA Technical Report NESDIS 149-SD, 4 pp.


  1. NOAA, cited 2016: Climate of South Dakota, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. [Available online at]
  2. NOAA, cited 2016: Climate at a Glance: U.S. Time Series, published October 2016, retrieved on November15, 2016, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration National Centers for Environmental information. [Available online at]
  3. Kunkel, K.E, L.E. Stevens, S.E. Stevens, L. Sun, E. Janssen, D. Wuebbles, M.C. Kruk, D.P. Thomas, M. Shulski, N. Umphlett, K. Hubbard, K. Robbins, L. Romolo, A. Akyuz, T. Pathak, T. Bergantino, and J.G. Dobson, 2013: Regional Climate Trends and Scenarios for the U.S. National Climate Assessment. Part 4. Climate of the U.S. Great Plains, NOAA Technical Report NESDIS 142-4, 82 pp. [Available online at]
  4. Kunkel, K. E., M. Palecki, L. Ensor, K. G. Hubbard, D. Robinson, K. Redmond, and D. Easterling, 2009: Trends in twentieth-century US snowfall using a quality-controlled dataset. J. Atmos. Oceanic Technol., 26, 33-44.
  5. Regional climate scenario-- Aberdeen News, cited 2011: Excessive heat kills at least 1,700 cattle across the state. [Available online at,0,5204476.story.]
  6. Schwartz, R. M., and T. W. Schmidlin, 2002: Climatology of blizzards in the conterminous United States, 1959-2000. J. Climate, 15, 1765-1772.
  7. NOAA, cited 2016: State of the Climate: National Overview for October 2013, published online November 2013, retrieved on December 30, 2016, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration National Centers for Environmental Information. [Available online at]
  8. NOAA, cited 2016: Flooding in South Dakota, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration National Weather Service. [Available online at]
  9. USGS, 2013: The 1972 Black Hills-Rapid City flood revisited, South Dakota Water Science Center, United States Geological Survey. [Available online at]
  10. NOAA, 2011: United States flood loss report - water year 2011, 10pp, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. [Available online at]
  11. Brown, P.J. and A.T. DeGaetano, 2013: Trends in U.S. Surface Humidity, 1930-2010. J.Appl. Meteor. Climatol., 52, 147—163,