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A Survival Guide For Your First Winter in South Dakota

Sioux Falls, South Dakota, and the rest of the Sioux Empire (AKA southeastern South Dakota) are welcoming thousands of new residents every year.


Many of you new folks will be experiencing your first eastern South Dakota winter. While it doesn't usually get as bad as our Dakota friends up north, I speak from experience when I say it can get a little rough.


So, to help ease you into winter in Sioux Falls and South Dakota here are some winter survival tips:
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Winter Weather Tips From the National Weather Service

 

TIPS: Here's how you can prepare for power outages

Sioux Falls, South Dakota, and the rest of the Sioux Empire (AKA southeastern South Dakota) are welcoming thousands of new residents every year.

Many of you new folks will be experiencing your first eastern South Dakota winter. While it doesn't usually get as bad as our Dakota friends up north, I speak from experience when I say it can get a little rough.

So, to help ease you into winter in Sioux Falls and South Dakota here are some winter survival tips:

Winter in Western South Dakota is Different than Winter in the East.

Western South Dakota is close enough to the Rocky Mountains that the Chinook winds can make a day in January as warm as spring. For a couple of days anyway, until a storm drops a foot of snow.

In the east, our weather is more similar to Minnesota than Rapid City. When it gets cold, it stays cold. And if there is snow on the ground that snow will stay there...until March.

Cold, Very Cold

If you're new to the upper Midwest, practice saying this: "At least there aren't any bugs." Because that is the only redeeming quality of the South Dakota cold.

Our average overnight low in the dead of winter is about seven degrees. The lowest recorded temperature in Sioux Falls was -42 degrees. That record was set over a century ago. More recently, in 2021 the coldest temp was -32 on February 15.

Tips: Layers are your friend. When it gets down below zero the cold is sneaky and unforgiving. Even if your day is just going from the house to the car to work, those few minutes outside can be dangerous.

  • Hat - keep their ears covered.
  • Gloves - doesn't have to be a huge glove like an astronaut. Something simple will work. Frostbite can steal the tips of your fingers quickly.
  • Coat - If you're new here, get a coat. Something to keep the cold out and your body heat in. A coat is one of those items that it is worth it to spend a little more on if you can. A quality coat can be the difference between a miserable time outside or a good time looking at Christmas lights.

Seal Up Your Home

I recommend covering your windows with some plastic. We do it every year on a few problem windows we have and it makes a huge difference. Check that there aren't any places for the cold to sneak in, like around your doors,

School Closings

If you have kids in the Sioux Falls Public School system, you'll most likely get a text if school is canceled because of snow. In the past, they have been great at getting the word out by 6:00 AM on the day.

If you're from a less snowy part of the US, you may be surprised at what it actually takes to shut the schools down here. It'll probably be more snow than you're used to. But, the City of Sioux Falls does an amazing job of keeping the roads open, so while it may seem bad, it's not too hard to get around town.

Driving in the Snow

This is the one that worries people the most: both newcomers and long-time residents.

Long-time residents worry about people knowing how to drive in snow because we all think we are experts at it. In reality, we just are used to it, and you will be too, eventually.

The big thing is to slow down! You can't drive in the snow like you do the rest of the year. Stopping takes longer, turning becomes a pain, and before you even hit the road you'll need to clean off your car.

Winter Driving Tips from Minnehanna County:

  • Drive at an appropriate speed for the conditions.
  • Allow more time to arrive at your destination. Patience is the key
  • Know the road conditions before traveling.
  • Remove snow and ice from all glass and lights.
  • Check your tires’ tread and pressure.
  • Don’t crowd the plow… provide at least 5 car lengths and do not pass a snow plow when it is actively working.
  • Do not use cruise control.
  • Provide more stopping distance.
  • Be mindful of black ice.
  • Turn on your headlights.
  • Drive defensively.
  • Never drive through “white-outs”.
  • Delay your trip until conditions improve.
  • No texting while driving but keep your cell phone handy in case of
    emergencies.
  • Never leave your vehicle if stuck. Wait for help to arrive.

Clean off your Car

No discussion of winter driving is complete without a reminder to CLEAN OFF YOUR CAR. All the snow, not just a square on the driver's side of the windshield. You're not a tank commander. You are driving down Minnesota Avenue and you can't see the three other lanes of traffic, or the cars in the lane your ARE in.

Get a scraper. I recommend a scraper/brush combo. In fact, because we don't have cassette cases in our cars much anymore, keep two in the car in case one breaks.

Car Washes Are Your Friend

Were you like me? Did you move to Sioux Falls and wonder 'Why so many car washes?' Then it snowed and I understood.

The Sioux Falls street team is the best anywhere! They are out when the snow starts and keep our city open through the worst of winter.

The only downside is that they have to use salt and other ice-melting chemicals on the roads. That stuff gets on your car and can become a problem. So, as soon as temp climb out of the single digits, get in line and wash the road off.

Get Winter Weather and Road Info

Traveling from November until March can be a crap shoot. It's best to know the forecast and keep up on road closures.

The National Weather Service in Sioux Falls is an excellent source of weather information, and so are our friends at Dakota New Now.

To keep up with winter driving conditions use 511 South Dakota. It's the road info direct from the South Dakota Department of Transportation. You can also call 511 for the latest. Remember, if a road is closed, it's closed for a reason, don't drive on it.

 

Scooping Snow

If this is your first winter with snow, I'm sorry. Scooping snow is the worst. Having sidewalks and driveways cleared off is wonderful. The process can suck.

Tips: Get a good shovel. if you go too cheap you'll just be driving back to the store, in the snow, to get another.

If you can get a snow thrower. You'll get your money's worth.

Keep up. I have to relearn this lesson every winter. Scoop as soon as you can, even if it's still snowing. Cleaning half an inch of snow off the driveway three times is way easier than scooping eight inches that have set overnight and become a glacier.

 

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