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From Floods To Drought: Ranchers Reflect On Extreme South Dakota Weather

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Drought conditions in South Dakota, 2021 

The state is so deep into a drought that it’s easy to forget the situation was much different two years ago. In 2019, widespread floods damaged farmland, roads, and infrastructure.  

Two South Dakotans and a meteorologist are reflecting on what’s changed and what's ahead. 

The drought is taking its toll on Curt Ulmer's Hutchinson County livestock operation in eastern South Dakota.     

“And we get several of our dugouts and dams that we use for watering our cows, they dried up,” Ulmer said. “So I guess we do it a day by day and we know the Lord will take care of us but kind of wonder what's going to happen.” 

Ulmer is one of many South Dakotans affected by the drought, just two growing seasons after dealing with floods. This is Ulmer two years ago. 

“Our landscape is so saturated from the wet year we had. And we have such deep frost it's heaved some of these roads so terribly bad,” he said. 

Ulmer isn’t alone in dealing with extremes. Jennifer Strait lives between Murdo and White River in western South Dakota. It’s where the Big White and Little White Rivers meet. This is her in 2019 talking about the floods. 

“I had moved down here in 2011. So in all those years, I've never really even seen water come across our road. It moves quick. It's amazing the power of water,” she said. 

Today Strait struggles to feed her livestock. 

“Oh, we are just so dry. We're just struggling to get anything off of our fields for hay,” she said. 

Extremely opposite weather conditions are not unheard of in South Dakota, but they usually don’t happen in such rapid succession. 

Mike Gillespie is a hydrologist for the National Weather Service in Sioux Falls.  

“The frequency of these extremes going back and forth is a little bit higher recently. That could possibly be related to climate change. It's just really been quite a while since we've had anything that we, you know, considered normal,” he said. 

Gillespie sympathizes with farmers and ranchers. 

“It's a tough job to predict the weather, but it's even a tougher job when you rely on the weather,” he said. 

Over 70 percent of the state is currently experiencing severe drought conditions


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