Watching or reading weather forecasts is a daily habit in our household. And we generally have a fair idea of what to expect over any five-day timeframe. So it is always something of a surprise that when I mention snow is expected or it’s likely to freeze next week, most family members and friends are quite surprised. They barely keep track of today’s weather, let alone a week away. But I can’t really blame them, since weather forecasts in my neck of the woods are proven wrong more often than they are proven right. It’s common to have predictions for eight inches of snow five days out, dropping to four inches two days out and ending up at two inches when it actually falls. It also happens the other way: a minor storm turns into a 12-inch blizzard. So there is something to be said for simply taking each day as it comes.
However, I must credit the forecasters with generally getting one weather condition correct: wind. If wind is predicted, you can be sure that it’s on its way, especially at my home, situated at the narrow southern end of a broad section of the valley. In fact, wind actually resides at my house and only leaves for short summer vacations.
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South Dakota is the one of the nation’s windiest states, and April and May are the windiest months. The west side of the state is generally windier than the east side. The average daily wind speed in April is around 12 mph, which is considered a “gentle breeze,” according to the National Weather Service. The maximum sustained wind (the highest speed for the day lasting more than a few minutes) for April is 22.5 mph, or a “fresh breeze.” A “moderate breeze” is 13 to 18 mph; “strong breeze” is 25 to 31 mph; and a “near gale” is 32 to 38 mph. A “fresh breeze” shows large branches and small trees beginning to sway, and a “strong breeze” shows large branches in continuous motion and whistling sounds overhead. I’m pretty sure we’re above average here at my house. The winds have lately been quite fresh and strong.
Because we live at the end of what I call the “funnel,” we are always looking for ways to mitigate wind. All our outbuildings face south, and our garden has an eight-foot solid wood fence on its north side that extends about 10 feet past the garden border on both ends. A row of thick bushes lines the north side of the greenhouse, and our house has only one window facing north.
I have a bunch of plastic pails with the bottoms cut off that I put around each of my cool weather cabbages, broccoli and other brassicas when I first transplant them. Even though I harden my plants off, they still need to be protected until more moderate conditions arrive in late May or June. Then the pails stay lined up along the fence just in case until my plants are too big. If hail threatens along with a wind, I pop them back over the plants and put a lid on each pail with a stone on top until the danger passes.
In summer, I use an unsightly assortment of frames, hoops, cages and other supports that can be quickly covered with a variety of tarps, shade clothes and blankets if wind, hail or even excessive heat threatens. This year, I plan on planting additional supplies of vegetables in grow bags that I can shelter under bushes or other protected areas because I anticipate a difficult growing season of drought and wind.
Wind, of course, does have its good side, even at my house. Wind blowing through the pines is a stirring sensation, and I love watching the wind as it ruffles up the hayfields in late summer.
Wind also plays an increasingly important role in South Dakota’s energy equation.
According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, wind power supplied about one-third of the state's total electricity net generation in 2020. Additionally, the organization states that, “South Dakota also has some of the best onshore wind resources in the nation. Wind provides a larger share of in-state generation in South Dakota than in all but three other states. In February 2021, South Dakota had more than 2,600 megawatts of wind energy capacity at 22 active wind farms statewide, and another 400 megawatts were under construction.”
Maybe I should call one of these wind farm folks and ask if they might consider providing my little neighborhood with just one of their windmills. I have the perfect location
Laura Tonkyn has spent 40 years becoming as self-sufficient as possible with her jack-of-all-trades husband, Art, on their eight-acre homestead in the Black Hills of South Dakota. She has written/edited for a number of local/regional papers, including the Rapid City Journal and Faces Magazine. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.