Fort Pierre Fire Danger sign

The Fire Danger sign across the street from the Fort Pierre Ranger District station on early Monday afternoon.

The Hughes County Commission voted to declare a drought disaster Monday, calling on Gov. Kristi Noem and President Joe Biden to action with any state or federal assistance available for this type of emergency.

“(T)he Board of County Commissioners resolve that said drought conditions constitute a natural disaster of such severity and magnitude that effective response is beyond the capabilities of this County, or even the State of South Dakota, and that Federal assistance is necessary, and there is no emergency plan available to alleviate the damage and economic chaos resulting from these conditions,” the resolution approved at Monday’s meeting stated.

The resolution further acknowledges that Hughes County does not have “financial resources” to properly respond to the drought disaster.

“It’s been an interesting year,” Hughes and Stanley County Emergency Management Director Rob Fines told the commission. “I don’t really see, talking to the Weather Service, really don’t see any change in it over the next month. They said the rest of July is just going to be high temps and low precipitation going into August.”

All of Hughes County is in “severe” drought as of July 13, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. About 15 percent of the county is in “extreme” drought, mostly in the southeastern portion of the county belonging to the Crow Creek reservation. Last month was also Hughes County’s driest June over the past 127 years, as precipitation levels were 2.51 inches below normal levels.

“We’ve been putting this off for a month probably now, waiting to see if things would change,” Fines said. “I don’t think it hurts anything just to have it on the books just to have it.”

Across the Missouri River, more than half of Stanley County is in “extreme” drought as of July 13. About one-fifth of the entire state of South Dakota is in “extreme” drought as of July 13, and about two-thirds is under “severe” drought.

The U.S. Drought Monitor identifies “severe” drought as that in which hay is short and cattle sales and planting begin early, while fire season begins early and runs long. “Extreme” drought is that in which row crop loss is “significant” and burn bans begin to take effect.

On June 29, Noem signed an executive order declaring a state of emergency in South Dakota and allowing for immediate mowing of state highway ditches east of the Missouri River to expand access to hay for farmers and ranchers.

“Growing up on the family ranch, I know how difficult it can be to feed cattle during dry times,” Noem said. “This increased flexibility will allow producers to immediately gain access to hay for their livestock. With a mild winter and early spring, most of the pheasant hatch is well behind us, and we do not expect this move to affect pheasant numbers. Reports from the field look fantastic for the upcoming pheasant hunting season.”

Elsewhere in South Dakota, the Buffalo Gap National Grassland, Fall River and Wall Ranger Districts of the Nebraska National Forests and Grasslands are slated to enter Stage 1 fire restrictions effective Tuesday. Among other things, Stage 1 restrictions prohibit building fires and smoking in most areas and could result in a class B misdemeanor for violations.

“We don’t see any kind of relief the rest of this week for rainfall appreciably at all,” Meteorologist Ryan Vipond of the Aberdeen National Weather Service station told the Capital Journal on Monday. “Right now we’re seeing some stuff rolling through Fargo. This is kind of an example of this where we might get an isolated area to see a pop-up shower or storm or something, but that would probably be more farther in the easterly areas of the region versus central South Dakota. So it doesn’t look good this week into the upcoming weekend, and with the temperatures anticipated to be pretty hot, that’s just going to pretty much exacerbate the situation as far as drought conditions go with temperatures in the upper-90s to low-100s in the forecast by middle to latter part of the week here.”

Michael Woodel | 605-224-7301 ext. 131

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