• Wind Cave National Park - Two Worlds

    Wind Cave

    National Park South Dakota

Weather

Sunset

Island in the Sea of Grass

The Black Hills are sometimes described as an island rising within a sea of grass. This sudden rise in elevation and the resulting slopes and exposures produce a much different climate than the surrounding plains. Wind Cave National Park lies on the southern tip of the "island" and, like the rest of the southern hills, has weather patterns that are greatly influenced by the Rocky Mountains to the west and the higher peaks of the northern Black Hills. Generally, the climate is semi-arid with mild winters and warm summers.

 

What a Difference

Climate and weather are not the same! Climate is a general term used to express broad patterns - for example, South Dakota's climate is sunny with warm summers and cold winters. Weather applies to specific movements of air masses, levels of precipitation, and temperature fluctuations at specific times of year--for example, today's weather is partly cloudy.

 
Weather Pattern
Banana Belt
 

Wind Cave National Park and the rest of the southern Black Hills are much warmer and drier than the northern hills. Some residents call the area South Dakota’s “banana belt.” The banana belt exists because of two weather patterns. The first weather pattern occurs when warm, moist air traveling east from the Pacific Ocean reaches the Rocky Mountains. The mountains force the air to rise, causing it to cool. When the air cools, the water vapor in the clouds condenses and falls as rain or snow. Once the air reaches the other side of the mountains, it is considerably drier. The dry air begins to descend, and becomes warmer again. The warm winds created by the descending air masses are called Chinook winds. This warm, dry air continues east and brings warmer and drier weather to the southern Black Hills.

Another weather pattern occurs when arctic air masses move south from Canada. When the frigid air masses encounter the summits of the northern Black Hills, they are deflected around the western and eastern slopes. Because Wind Cave National Park is located on the southern extremity of the hills, much of the cold air is funneled downward and away from the park and the southern hills.

 

Seasonal Patterns

Winter
(November - March)
Snowfall averages 30 inches annually. January is usually the coldest month, but March often brings the most snow.

Spring
(April and May)
Occasional high winds can make for extra chilly weather. Consistent spring-like weather generally occurs in late April, but some snow is possible. May usually brings the most precipitation, about 3 inches.

Summer
(June - August)
Like May, June can be a rainy month. Severe thunderstorms are common in June and July and occasional in August.

 
Sound

Listen to the prairie thunderstorm (84k wma file)

Fall
(September - October)
Days are warm and nights comfortably cool. Snow is common in late fall.

 

Monthly Weather Summary

January is the coldest month. The average high and low are 37.4° F and 10.7° F. Temperatures below zero are common. The average snowfall is 6.6".

May can be a wetter month with an average of 2.95" of rain. Temperatures are often pleasant. The average high and low are 70.7° F and 41.7° F.

September weather is often very pleasant with an average high of 78.4° F and an average low of 44.6° F. September is a little drier than the summer months.

February brings an average of 5.9" of snow. The average high is 41.8° F and the average low is 14.5° F.

June is a great month to observe dramatic thunderstorms. June is the wettest month of the year with an average precipitation of 3.05". The average high is a comfortable 81° F. The average low is 51° F.

October is often a mixture of warm and cold days. The average high is 65.8° F and the average low is 33.6° F. Precipitation is light. Expect some snow, especially late in the month.

March brings the warmest winter temperatures, but the most snow. The average high and low are 49.7° F and 21.4° F. Snowfall averages 7.4".

July is the warmest month of the year with an average high of 89.3° F and average low of 57.2° F. Hail and thunderstorms are common.

November often brings snow. The average high temperature is 49.5° F, and the average low temperature is 22.5° F.

April is a variable time. There is warm weather mixed with cold and snowy days. Precipitation increases with an average of 1.78". The average high and low are 61° F and 32° F.

August is much like July, but drier, and there are fewer thunderstorms. The average high and low are 88.1° F and 54.9° F.

December is generally a dry month. Snow averages 6". It is the second coldest month with an average high of 39.8° F and an average low of 14.1° F.

 

Did You Know?

fire on the prairie

Fire is an important factor in protecting the prairie. Historically, fires burned across the prairie every 4 to 7 years. Fires burn the small trees that would otherwise march across the prairie and turn the grasslands to forest.