April was among driest in recorded history at Chamberlain, Madison, other South Dakota cities

IndustriesAssociated Press

Last month was one of the driest Aprils on record for several South Dakota towns, as the state continued to slide further into drought.

The biggest precipitation deficits last month were in the state's southeast, which was 2 inches or more below average, according to state climatologist Dennis Todey.

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It was the driest April on record for Chamberlain and Mellette, and second-driest for Madison, Roscoe and Big Stone City. Eleven other weather stations recorded April among the top-five driest on record.

Meanwhile, nearly the entire state recorded above-average temperatures in April, Todey said.

The latest U.S. Drought Monitor map showed three-fourths of South Dakota to be in some type of drought. Sixteen percent of the state was considered to be in severe drought, which is the middle of the five classifications the agency uses and which suggests that crop or pasture losses are likely and water shortages are common.

Mark Venner, whose farm near Pierre is in the severe drought area, said it has been a challenge trying to grow wheat, corn and sunflowers and to raise cattle on the parched land.

"Every day we drive around and look at our crops," he told the Capital Journal. "An inch or two (of rain) would be great, but it's got to become a rainy spell. A rain is not going to do the deal."

Todey also said above-average precipitation is needed to overcome the moisture shortage, and the prospects of that happening are far from certain. The outlook for the next 30 days has equal chances of below- and above-average rainfall, he said.

The past week saw "minimal" precipitation in South Dakota, putting even more stress on soil moisture, the Agriculture Department said in its weekly crop progress report. Subsoil moisture supplies statewide are rated 70 percent short or very short, and topsoil moisture supplies are 74 percent short or very short. That is a worsening from 67 percent and 69 percent respectively last week.

More than one-third of the state's winter wheat crop is rated in poor or very poor condition. Stock water supplies are rated 42 percent short or very short.

Venner, who can see the Missouri River and Lake Oahe from his farm, said the dry conditions are "surreal."

"I can see all kinds of water and we're kicking the dust up here," he said.