PIERRE, S.D. (AP) -- Recent thunderstorms have eased the drought in much of South Dakota, but some western areas of the state remain dry, state Climatologist Dennis Todey said Tuesday.
"While we get this perception it's wet everywhere, it's not. But we're moving in the right direction," Todey told members of the Governor's Drought Task Force.
He said Sioux Falls and parts of southeastern South Dakota received 7 inches of rain or more in the past week, and a long stretch of the central part of the state got 2 to 3 inches. Western South Dakota is improving, but the northwestern and southwestern parts of the state in particular are still dry, Todey said.
Conditions have improved substantially from last year's drought that hurt crop yields and forced some farmers and ranchers in South Dakota and other states to sell cattle.
"We're not calling for a repeat of last year by any stretch, but we still could stay a little bit on the dry side in western parts of the state," Todey said.
The task force, a group of state officials and others appointed by Gov. Dennis Daugaard, meets periodically to get an update on conditions and consider ways to respond to dry conditions.
Last week, the U.S. Drought Monitor report indicated that 39 percent of the state was rated in severe or extreme drought, with no part of South Dakota in the highest category of exceptional drought. That's a big change since February, when nearly two-thirds of the state was rated in extreme or exceptional drought.
Todey said he expects more improvement when the next drought report is issued later this week.
The driest parts of South Dakota were in extreme southeastern counties and a broad area west of the Missouri River.
Kent Juhnke, who farms near Vivian in central South Dakota west of the Missouri River, said the 525 acres of winter wheat he planted last fall failed to grow. But he said the recent rains will give him a chance to raise milo, sorghum and other replacement crops he is planting in those failed wheat fields.
Grass is growing in Juhnke's cattle pastures, but he said the lingering effects of a dry winter and a cool spring will likely reduce the yield in hay fields.
When he looks at the landscape and sees green, he's encouraged, though.
"You've got to be an optimist to hang in there in our profession," Juhnke said.
Because the grass is turning green and rain has fallen across much of the Black Hills, the danger of wildfires should remain low for the next month, said Daren Clabo, a fire meteorologist for the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology. However, dry areas in the southern Black Hills and southwestern South Dakota prairies remain at risk of fire, he said.
Todey noted that parts of southeastern South Dakota have received so much rain that water standing in fields could kill newly sprouted corn plants. While the top layers of soil have been replenished, deeper layers remain dry in many areas, he said.
Phil Hofer, who farms near Bridgewater in the eastern part of the state, said his fields received periodic half-inch rains through early May and then got 2½ inches of rain Saturday night. Last year's drought cut Hofer's corn yield, but he said this spring's rain gives him a better chance of raising a good crop this year.
Hofer said he has planted nearly all his crops, and the wet soil should help the corn survive if the weather follows a typical pattern and turns hot and dry in July.
"It doesn't make a crop by any stretch, but it sure does improve your odds, improve your situation," he said.
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