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South Dakota Mesonet Works to Improve Snow and Soil Moisture Data Availability for Flood Risk Assessment

South Dakota Mesonet Station
The South Dakota Mesonet weather station on the SDSU campus in Brookings, S.D., is the first of 500 stations upgraded to conduct enhanced soil moisture and snow monitoring to provide crucial data about snowpack levels and flood risk.

A newly updated weather station near Brookings, S.D. is the first of over 500 stations across the five states of Nebraska, North Dakota, Montana, Wyoming and South Dakota to be upgraded or installed to conduct enhanced soil moisture and snow monitoring as part of a cooperative effort with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers led By U.S. Sen. Mike Rounds. The station gives the South Dakota Mesonet at South Dakota State University, a network of automated weather stations that provide high-definition weather coverage, the ability to provide crucial data about Upper Missouri River Basin plains snowpack and soil moisture to those who may be facing a flood risk. 

“Stations like this will address the need for soil moisture monitoring and will provide snow modelers and river forecasters with what they need to make improved products to inform about better reservoir management,” says Nathan Edwards, South Dakota Mesonet Director. 

Frozen and saturated soil and significant snowpack on the Upper Missouri River Basin plains were major contributors to flooding in 2011 and 2019. As a way to help citizens prepare for future flooding challenges, Sen. Rounds worked to get the Water Resources Reform and Development Act of 2014 passed to require the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to work with the South Dakota Mesonet and other existing networks to monitor soil moisture and snowpack in the Upper Missouri River Basin Plains. 

“We’ve helped spearhead this effort since the beginning in 2012, starting with a review of what data was missing and needed. While mountain snowpack is well-monitored, the lack of plains data related to soil moisture and snowpack contributed to the inability to get an accurate runoff forecast,” Edwards says.

The South Dakota Mesonet is making the updated station’s data available via National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) ingest system to their river forecasters and snow modelers. 

According to Edwards, the Mesonet station’s precipitation, snow, wind, temperature, humidity, solar radiation and snow depth data will improve their snow modeling capabilities. Soil monitoring capabilities will include soil moisture and soil temperatures at five different depths and will improve river forecasts. 

The South Dakota Mesonet has been involved in the monitoring effort since 2012, providing instrumentation recommendations, an instrumentation test bed during the winter of 2019, and ongoing consultation with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The South Dakota Mesonet anticipates an agreement with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to deliver this type of data at this station and others in the years to come. 

About South Dakota Mesonet at SDSU

Operated by South Dakota State University in partnership with local station sponsors and South Dakota State University Agricultural Experiment Station, the South Dakota Mesonet is the state’s weather network with real-time weather and soil reports. Data collected by Mesonet stations is utilized by the agriculture, natural resources, emergency management, water resources, research and the general public. All Mesonet information is available at http://mesonet.sdstate.edu/.