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Roads closed, basements flooded -- March storm slams region

Gene Kreutzfeldt clears out the water and slush blocking the sidewalk at the intersection of South Dobson Street and West Havens Avenue on Wednesday morning in Mitchell. (Matt Gade / Republic)

Splish, splash, Mitchell was takin’ a bath.

Streets — and basements — filled with water Wednesday as a March storm soaked the city and pounded South Dakota with rain, ice and snow. More precipitation, in multiple forms, is expected to continue Thursday.

A large section of southeastern South Dakota was in a flood warning on Wednesday due to the rain and snowmelt. By the end of Wednesday, a large portion of eastern South Dakota had received heavy rain. The worst of the rain was an area that spanned from Yankton through Bon Homme County toward Wagner and north to Parkston.

Significant flooding was causing problems and closing multiple roads in southeastern South Dakota. Motorists are encouraged to continuously check safetravelusa.com/sd for updated conditions and turn around when encountering a flooded road.

Within Mitchell city limits, public safety officials began urging caution at about 2 p.m. City roads were flooding while melting snow piles lined the boulevards, and city crews began blocking off at-risk streets. Later Wednesday evening, the city of Mitchell utility department asked residents to restrict water usage in homes near the Lake Mitchell area.

And that was just the start of the two-day storm. Snow and wind are expected Thursday, with the forecast calling for gusts in Mitchell as high as 60 mph.

“The colder air will come in and the winds will increase, which will take place right around daybreak,” said Jen Hacker, meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Sioux Falls. “Snowfall totals will be 1 to 3 inches in most areas, including Mitchell. And that means periods of near-zero visibility.”

A broad swath in the central part of the state, from Murdo to Wall and down to Pine Ridge, was expected to get 1 to 2 feet of total snow after the conclusion of the storm.

On Wednesday, travel conditions were a nightmare for people in central South Dakota. Due to the storm, Interstate 90 in South Dakota was closed from Wall to Chamberlain at about 2 p.m.

Officials later closed the stretch west from Wall to the Wyoming border.

Local sheriffs departments urged caution for rural travelers in eastern South Dakota. County roads in Miner County were left unpassable with the amount of rain and slush that accumulated, and shortly before 4 p.m., Bon Homme County Sheriff Mark Maggs began advising that no one in the county travel at all.

Despite getting rain all day, the Jerauld County Sheriff’s Office indicated that roads in the county had held up and had not needed to be closed as of Wednesday afternoon.

In Davison County, creeks are filling fast, Emergency Management Director Jeff Bathke said.

“We went out south of (Mitchell) and checked every creek, and they’re all pretty much unpassable,” Bathke said.

Bathke said gravel roads will be a bad place to be as precipitation continues to fall.

“Stay off the gravel,” he advised. “I would not be on a gravel road if I can help it.”

The Davison County Emergency Management department was also leading a sandbagging effort at the city of Mitchell shop on Wednesday.

Officials were filling sandbags that citizens can pick up at the West Eighth Avenue city shop near the Highway 37 bypass. Similarly, at the Davison County highway shop at the end of West Fifth Avenue under the city water tower, the county is giving away sandbags but residents will need to have their own sand.

Hanson County Sheriff Brandon Wingert said that no travel is advised in the county, where a growing list of roads are under water. He said his office has received as much as 5 feet of water in its basements.

Wednesday morning started with about 1,807 NorthWestern Energy customers in Mitchell waking up without power. The outage began at 7:18 a.m., but crews were out on scene and it was completely restored at 8:10 a.m.

Tom Glanzer, with NorthWestern Energy, said a transmission line was the cause of the outage. He suggested weather was the likely culprit.

A confirmed morning outage was also impacting Letcher, where 194 customers were without power. With snow and ice coming Thursday, Glanzer acknowledged more outages are possible.

Due to the weather, Gov. Kristi Noem closed state government offices in 39 central and western counties Wednesday. Locally, those counties included Brule, Charles Mix, Gregory, Jerauld, Lyman and Tripp. Officials are monitoring the storm closely and evaluating whether further state-office closures might be necessary.

A number of schools called off classes Thursday due to weather. Mitchell was already scheduled to be off due to spring break.

The Douglas and Hutchinson county courthouses are closed Thursday, as well.

Numerous state highways in the southeastern part of the region are reported closed or have “no travel advised,” including South Dakota Highways 37, 44, 46 and U.S. Highway 18.  

Hutchinson County Sheriff Jim Zeeb said there have been a few calls about cars hydroplaning on Highway 37. In response, he advised all travelers to use caution.

On the Missouri River, the Army Corps of Engineers said it was increasing releases from the Gavins Point Dam due to increased runoff into the river. The releases went from 17,000 cubic feet per second to 22,000, and expected to be at 27,000 cubic feet/second by the end of Wednesday.

Releases upstream from the Fort Randall Dam at Pickstown were reduced to zero on Wednesday morning.

"Even with releases from Fort Randall shut off, the runoff from the heavy rainfall and melting snow, primarily in the Niobrara River basin and its small tributaries, will quickly fill the small amount of flood storage in the Gavins Point reservoir," said John Remus, who is the chief of the corps’ Missouri River Basin Water Management Division based in Omaha.