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James River, Firesteel Creek hit flood stage

It's a soggy start to spring. At least that's what it looks like throughout the region with muddy farm yards, massive melted snow puddles and flood warnings near Mitchell for both the Firesteel Creek and the James River. With yet another shot of ...

Water flows out the spill on Tuesday in Lake Mitchell. Flooding from Firesteel Creek has led to the spill way filling up and the water rushing into the James River causing flooding along its banks. (Matt Gade / Republic)
Water flows out the spill on Tuesday in Lake Mitchell. Flooding from Firesteel Creek has led to the spill way filling up and the water rushing into the James River causing flooding along its banks. (Matt Gade / Republic)

It's a soggy start to spring.

At least that's what it looks like throughout the region with muddy farm yards, massive melted snow puddles and flood warnings near Mitchell for both the Firesteel Creek and the James River.

With yet another shot of snow Monday night into Tuesday morning and more precipitation in the forecast, southeastern South Dakota is seeing a soggier spring than in recent years.

"The spillway at the lake has been flowing over for the past couple weeks, but it seems like it's picking up more now," Mitchell's Engineering Projects Supervisor Terry Johnson said Tuesday, the first calendar day of spring.

Mitchell this year has already surpassed the average monthly March precipitation total. And it's been cooler than average as well. That combination has created flooding conditions near Mitchell, the first time either the James River or Firesteel Creek have been considered in spring flood stage since 2012.

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"It's minor flooding, but it's been awhile since we've seen this," said Mike Gillispie, hydrologist for the National Weather Service in Sioux Falls.

Through the first 19 days of the month, an equivalent of 1.13 inches of water (snow or rain) has fallen in Mitchell, and there's a 50 percent chance of rain each day Friday through Sunday, according to the NWS. An average March for Mitchell sees a total of 1.06 inches of precipitation.

The average high temperature for this month is 37.2 degrees, more than 7 degrees cooler than a typical March in Mitchell at 44.6 degrees.

Although the city of Mitchell does not monitor the amount of water flowing over the spillway on the east end of the lake, a strong rush of water could be seen Tuesday morning pouring into the Firesteel Creek.

Northwest of Mitchell, about five miles north of Mount Vernon, the United States Geological Survey (USGS), through a transmitter, monitors the crest of the Firesteel Creek, which was at 11.13 feet Monday afternoon. Eight feet is considered minor flood stage and 13 feet is considered moderate.

Gillispie said - aside from some quick, strong heavy rain storms - this is the first time since 2011 the Firesteel Creek has been in flood stage. A flood warning for that location is in effect until Saturday evening.

Three miles south of Mitchell, the James River has been observed by the USGS as high as 18.08 feet this year, with flood stage considered at 17 feet.

"Any impact from that is going to be some pasture or ag land right along the river that's underwater for a couple days," Gillispie said. "We're not looking at road closures due to that."

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The flood warning on the James River is in effect until Sunday evening, and this is the first spring to have significant water at the location since a three-year stretch from 2009 to 2011. Each of those years, the James River crested above 21 feet.

The weather this month has alleviated much of eastern South Dakota from long-hampered drought conditions. The U.S. Drought Monitor shows the majority of southeastern South Dakota completely free of drought, but much of the western half of the state is still struggling.

While the flooding, damp conditions and mud puddles aren't ideal spring conditions, the year is certainly different than recent history. In 2012, 2013, 2015 and 2017, Mitchell recorded well under 1 inch of precipitation for all of March.

The James River is shown flooded near South Dakota Highway 38 just north of where it meets Firesteel Creek. (Matt Gade / Republic)
The James River is shown flooded near South Dakota Highway 38 just north of where it meets Firesteel Creek. (Matt Gade / Republic)

Related Topics: WEATHER
Luke Hagen was promoted to editor of the Mitchell Republic in 2014. He has worked for the newspaper since 2008 and has covered sports, outdoors, education, features and breaking news. He can be reached at lhagen@mitchellrepublic.com.
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