I read your statistics. They are pretty accurate for West River (west of the Missouri), but not so accurate for East River. East River has a steady population growth, especially south of Sioux Falls. This is mostly due to the explosive growth of the medical industry. Much of it is zone 5 for growing, with some zone 6 (and zone 4) microclimates. They have excellent rainfall, lesser amounts of snow and more moderate seasons. Winter nights rarely reach -20 F. There is a cold period usually in January that lasts about three weeks. At this time, temps can reach the -20 F range for a few days, and highs can be 0 to 10 above. This is usually mitigated quickly by southern air flow. Some of the smaller, family-held farms grow peaches and even a cold-hardy variety of almonds. There is abundant game, due in part to the large tracts of corn, soybeans and alfalfa.
East River has more tornadoes than West River, on average, but all South Dakota tornadoes tend to be smaller (EF3 or less) and shorter-lived than those further south in Tornado Alley. As a storm chaser myself, South Dakota is rarely in my prime target area during chase season.
West River is quite a bit drier and has a much lower water table. However, south central South Dakota is on the northern edge of the Oglala Aquifer, which has excellent water at around 180 feet (or less, depending on the lay of the land). Again, smaller ranches have grown and managed tree rows, not only for protection from winter winds but also as a continual source of firewood.
Game is abundant in West River areas, too. Turkey, mule deer, whitetail deer, pheasants, and even elk are found on the plains. There are cougars, coyotes and lynx too, so it is prudent to guard livestock.
There is a big difference in various areas of South Dakota, and it is worth checking out places south of I-90 and west of the Missouri River. North of I-90 is cold and dry, and some areas have problems with shifting topsoil, especially around the Pierre area. However, a well-managed retreat could easily and comfortably farm small areas to produce enough food for their group and still have leftovers to barter. Numerous windmills make irrigation of small areas simple. The water does contain a lot of minerals, but this is a plus. It dramatically reduces the mineral requirements (vitamin supplements) for livestock and humans. And the extremely low human population makes it very attractive.
There are numerous small “canyons” and buttes in which to create housing that commands a view of the area, but is hidden to all but the most astute observers. People are courteous and helpful to their neighbors, but will close ranks on obnoxious “outsiders” and tourists. Most are competent with firearms, many are veterans, and virtually all ascribe to basic Christian values. There is also a huge homeschooling base and an availability of competent midwives (although their practice is still illegal in the state).
I’d say South Dakota should be a tad higher on the list. – Bobbi from South Dakota
JWR Replies: Thanks for those observations. I will append them to the state-level description at my “Recommended Retreat Areas” web page. OBTW, similar comments from residents of other states are welcome. I’ll be happy to post them.