The Black Hills Travel Blog

The Banana Belt: Father (in-law) Knows Best

By • Dec 17th, 2010 • Category: Culture

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Ever since I moved to the Black Hills, I’ve heard folks talk about the region’s “Banana Belt” weather. I’ve always thought it was kind of a goofy, made-up term.

My wife and I live in Spearfish – in the northern Black Hills. My father-in-law lives down in Hot Springs – the southern Black Hills. He’s always giving me trouble about the northern hills being the “Tundra” and his area being the “Bahamas of the Black Hills.” And he often talks about the “Banana Belt.”

Earlier this week, I was finally able to wrap my head around the Banana Belt concept. Here’s how…

Last weekend, we spent four days in Iowa with my family and the temperature outside was in the single digits most of the time we were there (I know, I know – it gets plenty cold here in the hills too – stick with me.)

When we left northwest Iowa on Monday morning, the display in the car said that the outside temperature was a whopping SIX degrees! We drove west, on our merry way, for the next several hours back toward the Black Hills. As the morning hours went on and we made our way through Sioux Falls and then Mitchell, the temperature rose a few degrees – the normal sort of temperature increase you expect to happen during late morning.

By noon, the car thermometer said 19 degrees. Respectable enough for the middle of December. The temp continued to climb “normally” until just outside of the Black Hills. At New Underwood (east of Rapid City only 20 miles) the temp was 26 degrees. That’s when things really started to change. And I mean – FAST.

You see, that area – from just outside of Rapid City, on west to the Black Hills proper – is what people (like my father-in-law) call the Banana Belt. I’m no scientist, but it has something to do with being on the leeward (downwind) side of the Black Hills and the way the air warms as it descends down from the higher peaks.

As we cruised along Interstate-90, mile by mile, degree by degree, the temperature climbed. By the time we hit Rapid City (less than 20 minutes later) the car thermometer said 46! That was 20 degrees in 20 miles.

By the time we got home to Spearfish, the sun was setting and it was cooling off again, but that was the most concrete evidence of my father-in-law’s Banana Belt theory that I’d ever experienced. So – on that one – I’m now a believer.

As for his “Tundra/Bahamas” theory – I’m not buying it.

About the Author

is a resident of Spearfish, S.D. He grew up in the tall-corn state of Iowa, where he developed an early interest in all things outdoors. After high school he moved to Vermillion, S.D., where he earned his bachelor’s degree in public relations and advertising. During his college years, two things caught his attention: the beauty of western South Dakota’s Black Hills and a girl from those Black Hills. After graduating from college, Joe traveled across the country as a recruiter for the University of South Dakota. He saw the sights from Pittsburgh to Las Vegas and everywhere in between, but it was the Black Hills (and the girl) that kept drawing him back. He and wife moved back to the Black Hills in 2008. He's an avid hiker, mountain biker and road cyclist whose future plans include trying to fit a pair of kayaks into the spare bedroom.
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