(Originally Posted by Creeping Jennie on Monday, 13 July 2015 in Sturgis.com Blogs)
Everyone wants to know what to expect from the weather man during their trip to the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally.
The first full week in August can present many different meteorological scenarios, so it can be hard to describe in just a sentence or two. Afternoon thunderstorms are very common, and can bring hail, high winds, lightning, and flash floods. Guaranteed, there will be at least one thunderstorm during the Rally. If you are out riding the Black Hills, the possibility of getting caught in one of these storms can be pretty high. That's bad enough in a cage, but on a bike, a person can get hurt.
Be prepared for all summertime weather- High heat, cool nights, rain, high winds, hail, thunderstorms, and even tornadoes. Extreme weather does happen, so be prepared!
It will rain somewhere in the Black Hills during the Rally during any given day. Typically, rain showers are short, and happen in the afternoons. They can bring hail of all sizes, high winds, and lightning. If you are riding the Hills, download a weather app on your smartphone, and stay updated on emerging weather conditions. Keep in mind that the weather can be drastically different from one spot to another. For instance, it can be bucketing down rain and hail in Rapid City, but Hot Springs, which is only fifty seven miles away, can be hot and dry, with not a cloud in the sky. Plan your routes, and try to estimate the times of when you will arrive or pass through towns and areas. Then, you can look at the forecasts for each of those places on the map, and avoid any severe weather situations.
Many people insist on carrying their wet weather riding gear in their bags at all times, yet others say that it makes no difference because the rain can come so fast that by the time you are able to stop and suit up, you are already soaked, and the rain stops. Of course, if you plan your routes and stay aware of forecasts, you can avoid this. If you know that you will be riding back to Sturgis from Deadwood at 3:30, and see that there is a high chance of rain during that time, you can suit up before leaving Deadwood. If you do get caught in the rain, you will be prepared.
I know that South Dakota is a no helmet state, and for many this means being able to experience the freedom of not wearing a heavy lid for the first time, or maybe just a once a year treat. Please consider how much it hurts to be pelted with quarter sized (or bigger) hail while riding. In some places, hail is not typically hard and tight, and breaks easily on impact. Here in Western South Dakota, I have seen baseball sized hail pummel the earth, breaking car windows, smashing motorcycles, and crashing through camper windows and skylights. Hail is usually pretty hard, like ice cubes taken directly from the freezer. You may consider wearing your helmet just for this reason alone. Hail damage on your bike is painful enough, let alone to your skull.
What do you do if you find yourself in a storm? Obviously, you should find shelter. Go to the nearest structure, such as gas station, store, barn, shed, or any other building. Do not seek shelter under a tree if there is lightning. If you see a tornado, seek shelter immediately. Do not seek shelter in a car. The best shelter would be a basement, but in a pinch, any windowless interior room will do. If you are on the highway or interstate, do not try to outrun it. Tornadoes can move quicker than you think, and do not move in a straight line. Instead, lie face down in a ditch. If you are camping, or in town and you hear sirens that are not police, ambulance or firetruck sirens, then find shelter immediately.
Also, a word of advice- If you are camping in an RV or camper that has retractable awnings or other outside affixed shades, be sure to retract them and fasten them down before leaving for the day. Storms can pop up quickly, and the high winds and hail that come with them will destroy your awnings. TRUST ME. I have seen this happen many times.
Now for a little mythbusting. You may have heard someone insist that it snowed in Sturgis during the Rally one year. It has not snowed in Sturgis during the first full week of August since records have been kept. Some people insist that the temps drop down to the thirties at night. NOT TRUE. This is also the same with the claims that it routinely gets to "A hundred and ten" or some such frypan temperature. While it may feel that hot or cold to a person, it can be difficult to accurately gauge temperature without the benefit of a thermometer. Throw into the equation factors such as humidity, wind speed, and elevation, and perception of temperature becomes tricky. Also an issue: The humans themselves. If your tent and sleeping bag get wet or even just damp, a fifty degree night is going to feel like a miserable thirty five degrees, especially if there is any wind. If you are from southern Florida, you might swear that you saw icicles and snowflakes, and maybe even a polar bear. However, if you are from Alaska, you might honestly believe that the temp reached one hundred and ten on a hot day of riding, when there is no breeze, it rained a lot the day before, and your tent is far from the shade. In reality, the temperature only reached ninety degrees.
If you look at recorded data between 1998-2014 for each month of August, you can see that the lowest recorded temperature was forty degrees in 2004. The highest recorded temperature was one hundred and six degrees in 2001. I will note that in this particular report, there was NO SNOW recorded. See for yourself:
In short- South Dakota weather is volatile, and can be extreme. Be prepared! Bring a jacket for cool nights, t-shirts or tank tops for hot days. You will not need a parka. South Dakotans dress in layers. We either add or subtract a layer as the temperature changes. Bring your sunscreen and bug spray too, as the mosquitos are bad this year due to the frequent, heavy rains.
No matter what the atmospheric conditions are during the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally, keep your eye to the sky, and be prepared.