Officials don’t expect major flooding from melting snow
By Chet Brokaw
PIERRE — No major flooding is expected from 4 feet of rapidly melting snow that blanketed western South Dakota during an early fall storm that killed at least one person, collapsed several buildings and left tens of thousands without power, officials said Tuesday.
“We still have some creeks and streams that can still hold quite a bit of moisture,” Melissa Smith, a hydrologist with the National Weather Service in Rapid City, said. “If anything, we might have some minor flooding conditions. Right now, we’re not looking for anything major or widespread.
Officials and residents meanwhile were working to clean up after the weekend storm in western South Dakota’s Black Hills cut power to tens of thousands of customers, brought travel to a standstill, left cattle ranchers dealing with heavy losses and damaged numerous buildings.
Smith said the area was abnormally dry to moderate drought conditions before the storm, so much of the water from melting snow is soaking into the unfrozen ground. Creeks and streams were running low, so they also can handle runoff, she said.
Minor flooding is possible, particularly where snow drifts block water from running into creeks and streams. Between half an inch to an inch and a half of rain is predicted for the area Thursday and Friday, but that also will soak into the parched ground, Smith said.
The Cheyenne River, which drains much of the area, also could handle the runoff, Smith said.
Calen Maningas, a Rapid City firefighter working in the Pennington County Emergency Operations Center, said the city-county Water Rescue Team was put on notice to deal with any flooding or water damage problems, but no major flooding was expected.
Rapid City is protected from floods by the green belt, essentially a giant park running through the city along Rapid Creek, which was established after the June 1972 flood that killed 238 people, Maningas said.
“If a flood was to happen, it would just be in the park,” Maningas said.
The Rapid City Council has declared a winter storm disaster, the first step toward getting federal aid to help the area recover from a recordsetting weekend snowstorm. Rapid City Fire Chief Mike Maltaverne said the storm was the worst he has seen.
“In my 24 years in Rapid City this storm, in my recollection, is unprecedented, certainly on behalf of the fire department,” he told the council at Monday’s emergency meeting, according to the Rapid City Journal. Dozens of calls for service went unanswered Friday and Friday night, he said.
The 19 inches of snow that fell in Rapid City on Friday broke the city’s 94-year-old one-day snowfall record for October by about 9 inches, according to the National Weather Service. The city also set a record for snowfall in October, with a total of 23.1 inches during the storm. The previous record was 15.1 inches in October 1919.
The National Weather Service said 55 inches fell in Lead, a two-day record for the month of October.
Rapid City’s airport and major roadways in the region had reopened by Monday. City and Pennington County public offices were reopening Tuesday, but public schools and Western Dakota Technical Institute remained closed due to impassable bus routes, power outages and damage to schools.
Many buildings in the Black Hills suffered damage. The TMone call center in Spearfish has a collapsed roof, the Black Hills Pioneer reported. In Sturgis, an auto detailing shop, a fitness club, a bar and a UPS building have roof damage, according to KOTA-TV. Sturgis Williams Middle School also has significant damage and is shut down for the week.
Authorities in Lawrence and Meade counties were called to several homes whose roofs had collapsed, KBHB radio reported. There were no immediate reports of serious injuries.
The storm contributed to at least one death — a man in the Lead-Deadwood area who collapsed while cleaning snow from his roof — and early estimates suggest western South Dakota lost at least 5 percent of its cattle.
The storm also toppled hundreds of power poles in the region and cut power to roughly 30,000 customers. About 12,500 remained in the dark early Tuesday.
Vance Crocker, Black Hills Power vice president for operations, said he expects 95 percent of the company’s customers will have service restored by the end of the week, but outages could last into next week for customers in more remove, hard-to-reach areas.
Electrical workers, construction crews and National Guard members from eastern South Dakota and nearby states are helping to restore power at six electrical cooperatives in western South Dakota. More than 160 people from 20 South Dakota co-ops, a Minnesota cooperative, a Nebraska public power district, the Guard and several private contractors were on site or on the way, according to the state Rural Electric Association