No matter the time, a subject which always seems to hold our attention is the weather. That is true today as it was throughout all our history. When the first explorers and fur trappers came up the Missouri River from St. Louis, they did not know what kind of weather to expect.
Those who came after Lewis and Clark had returned from their trip to the West Coast used their journals which contained much weather data. However, the observations of those who had journeyed through the region were not reliable.
It is the Medical Department of the Army which must be given the credit as being the meteorological pioneers throughout this region. The medical officers, at the various military posts established in the Dakotas, began recording observations of temperature, rainfall, wind, and the general state of the weather in 1854.
Following the initial work of the Medical Department of the Army came that of the voluntary observer. The Smithsonian Institution was responsible for providing them with the needed instruments. The first voluntary observer was established at Yankton in January of 1860. Another early station was opened at Bon Homme (seven miles east of Springfield along the river) in March of 1872.
The voluntary observers began their work at places convenient to established lines of communication. However, they were well advanced to the outposts of civilization and their work exhibits a real appreciation of the practical value of weather data.
The earliest official weather reporting in what is now South Dakota began when the U. S. Army in January of 1854 established the first weather observation station at Fort Pierre. The next post was established at Fort Randall in November of 1856.
The temperature at Fort Randall reached 1120 in July of 1874 and it dropped to -440 in January, 1875. A difference of 1560 in six months would make any member of the Army think that he must surely be in the wrong place!
The last weather observation at Fort Randall was November 17, 1892 when the fort was vacated. A note was attached to the November 1892 form which indicated that “the station would close, beginning November 18, 1892”. The closure followed closely the passing of the frontier as officially pronounced by the national census of 1890.
Author: Clarence Shoemaker, originally published in the Gregory-Times Advocate on January 31, 2018