Fire and ice conditions

Much of northern and central South Dakota is enjoying a rare break in hazardous weather conditions, even as the region is bordered by regions of elevated fire (orange) and frost (white) risks.  

Weather watchers may notice something peculiar this weekend. It seems the capital area is sitting between ice and fire.

There is an area under fire weather watch to the northwest, in southwestern North Dakota, and a frost advisory zone to the southeast, covering southeastern South Dakota and much of Nebraska.

The proximity of these areas indicates that they are being caused by related atmospheric and biological patterns. What kind of systems could simultaneously create such contradictory hazards?

A dry, cool system, in a wet, late spring, National Weather Service Meteorologist Mike Connelly said.

“The air is kind of dry, there’s not a lot of humidity in it,” Connelly said.

Combined with the much-lower-than-average temperatures in the region, this could put early spring crops in the flood-soaked ground at risk of frosting over. Combined with the strong winds currently sweeping down from Canada, it puts many areas where dry, dead grass still dominates the prairie at a higher risk of ignition.

For the moment, central South Dakota is in a bit of a sweet spot; protected from both extremes by its own barrenness, Connelly said. The capital area is just as cold as the southeast portion of the state, he said, but unlike the more fertile southeast, there’s not much around for low temperatures to damage.

“We’re pretty far behind [normal spring temperatures],” Connelly said. “Nothing is growing, so we’re really not at risk for frost damage.”

The cold also protects central South Dakota against the fire danger southwestern North Dakota currently faces, but more important is the area’s relatively still air.

“It doesn’t look that conducive [to fire], mostly because we’re not as windy,” Connelly said.

The NWS predicted that central South Dakota might reach, at most, a “moderate” fire danger level on Friday and Saturday. The warmer, windier northwest will be at a much higher risk.

Connelly said that the capital area was unlikely to be endangered by either the frost of fire in the coming weeks. As temperatures slowly but surely rise, humidity will also rise, and fresh greenery will overtake the dead plant material. This will help negate some of the fire risk for a time. The warming ground will also protect that new greenery from snap frosts.

After weathering extreme winter storms and early spring flooding, it seems as if the capital area is finally catching a break.

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