What a difference a year makes has been the comment by farmers and ag professionals across the Midwest, and South Dakota is a prime example. Statewide, March 2013 in South Dakota was much cooler and wetter than a year ago.
The spring of 2012 had extremely warm temperatures that eventually resulted in drought development in South Dakota. But this year temperatures have been lower than average, let alone the spring of 2013.
"In general, all areas of the state struggled to reach average March temperatures," said Laura Edwards, South Dakota State University Extension climate field specialist.
Referencing data from the National Weather Service's Cooperative Observer Network, differences are evident between western and eastern parts of the state. Edwards said temperatures were up to 6 degrees below average in the west and 6 to 12 degrees below average in the east.
"This is in sharp contrast to last year, when March temperatures were 6 to 15 degrees or more above average," Edwards said.
Many eastern locations had monthly average temperatures rank in the top ten coldest of any March on record.
Precipitation in the last month varied widely, noted Dennis Todey, SDSU Extension and State Climatologist.
"Most notably, the northwestern part of South Dakota was exceptionally dry, with total precipitation ranging from 0.05 inches to 0.70 inches," said Todey.
A select number of localities benefited from rain or snowfall above average, but these were few and far between. Unfortunately, some of the precipitation fell on frozen ground—leading to rapid runoff for pond and dugout refill, but little soil moisture recharge.
Edwards said the outlook for early April calls for a continuation of cooler than average temperatures for most of the northeastern areas. Elsewhere, temperatures will gradually begin to warm to near-average levels for this time of year.
"However, April is notorious for big swings between cold and warm temperatures," Edwards said.
"In the northeastern counties, there are still quite a few snow-covered fields, despite the last few warm days," said Edwards.
Most farmers in that area plan to plant corn around the third or fourth week of April, and soybeans in early to mid-May. The southern area farmers try to get into fields even earlier. Spring wheat planting has barely begun, but those activities will increase rapidly this month as well.
Soil temperatures are an important consideration for planting conditions, Todey said. "Soil temperatures at 4-inch depth are above average over most of the western and far southern parts of the state. Temperatures are lagging in the snow covered areas of the northeast. The generally dry soils should warm rapidly once warmer conditions reach the state," he said.
Todey said, "The latest seasonal drought outlook shows likely improvement over the next three months in all areas except the southern tier of counties along the Nebraska border."