Many years ago I stood at a rest stop on Interstate 29, gazing at what looked like a newspaper in a standard vending machine. The headline read: "Don't let recent rains fool you, the long drought is still happening.
At least that's how I remember it. It was not easy to read. The sky was ominously dark. It was raining hard. The newsprint was soggy.
To this day I have to concede the point: Nothing better conceals a drought than copious rain. I notice that the drought isn't getting any easier to spot in the Midwest this summer.
Recently I happened to take Interstate 80 west across Iowa to I-29. North, thankfully, the highway was clear.
There was no I-29 south at the junction. Looking left from the ramp, the interstate was drowned under an impromptu lake. It gave me that eerie, made-for-TV-disaster-movie feeling.
We live on a very large tabletop. Spill water on it, and some will run off. A lot of the water just pools up on the surface.
Aberdeen's own Moccasin Creek isn't really a creek, it's a long pond. Right now it's uncomfortably wide. It could be a lot worse for us. We could be right in the drink, like much of Waubay.
Weather changes faster than topography. That inescapable truth frames our situation.
It would be nice to know whither trends the weather. If we are in for years, let alone decades, of this, we will soon have to build boats by the cubit.
It is quite possible that this year's inconvenient weather is a result of anthropogenic global warming. It is just as possible that it isn't.
The world warmed in the last half of the past century and human industry might be a significant contributing factor. No science can tell us whether a general warming will continue to dry Dallas and deluge the Dakotas, or switch and go the other way.
Oddly enough, world surface temperatures flattened out between 1998 and 2008, despite a continued rise in greenhouse gases.
A report by the National Academy of Sciences explains this as the result of the solar cycle, weather cycles and sulfur emissions from Chinese power plants. We can't control the sun or El Nio, but at last we have something that really works and works fast: air pollution.
The moral here is not that we should intentionally foul the skies, though you'd have to take that seriously if you view global warming as an existential threat. It is that South Dakota probably can't count on Al Gore to control the weather.
We must do what we have always done: manage to live on the skin of this world that nature and nature's God have provided us.
Let's just hope that the task doesn't get more challenging.
Kenneth C. Blanchard Jr. is a professor of political science at Northern State University. Write to him at email@example.com. The views presented are his and do not represent Northern State University.