Big Weather Events
of the 20th Century
at Sioux Falls, SD

The only problem with this list of the century's big weather events, is that we currently do not have comprehensive information on the severity of thunderstorms or snowstorms/blizzards before 1966 (we do not have published Storm Data before then), but we can still give you the big snow amounts and basic information. There is a lot of detail available since that time however and a lot of the big events have occurred since 1966.

- Richard Ryrholm
Climatic Focal Point
National Weather Service, Sioux Falls

Here is a list not necessarily in order of importance...

1. The blizzard of Jan. 10-11, 1975 was widely considered to be the worst blizzard of the century in this area. There was only 7 inches of snow measured at Sioux Falls, but wind gusts were up to 70 mph, wind chills were down to 70 below zero, and visibilities were below a quarter mile at the airport for 24 straight hours. There were 8 deaths in South Dakota during the storm, but only 2 can be attributed directly to the storm. Two college students from Sioux Falls died from exposure when their car stalled 3 miles east of Sioux Falls. A 2000 foot high broadcast tower east of Sioux Falls collapsed due to the storm. Livestock loss was an estimated 10 to 15 thousand head.

Another blizzard of note for areas west of Sioux Falls was the famous April 13-14, 1986 blizzard in much of South Dakota which caused some of the worst livestock losses in history.

2. The biggest snowstorm in our history was 32.2 inches snowfall from Feb. 16-18, 1962 with 26.0 inches in 24 hours from the 17-18th. This storm also contributed to the snowiest month on record with 48.4 inches for Feb. 1962.

3. The snowiest winter in history was 94.7 inches from 1968-69 with a real whopper snowstorm on Dec. 21-22, 1968 of 17.7 inches getting the (snow)ball rolling. This storm caused 16.6 inches in 24 hours and snowdrifts up to 10 feet in the area. This winter was followed by all-time record high river stages for the Big Sioux River at Sioux Falls in April 1969 all due to the snowmelt.

4. Other big snowstorms of the century...

Dates Storm Total Snowfall (inches) Greatest Snowfall in
24 hours (inches)
Feb. 8-9, 1909 21.0 15.0
Mar. 16-17, 1917 20.0 14.0
Mar. 9-10, 1956 18.9 18.9
Feb. 19-20, 1952 17.7 16.6
Dec. 21-22, 1920 16.0  12.0
Mar. 2-3, 1951 14.8 14.8
Nov. 27-28, 1983 15.0 in. southern Sioux Falls but 11.0 at airport  

5. The earliest heavy snowstorm was the famous Halloween 1991 snowstorm from October 31 st to November 1 st with a foot of snowfall and blizzard conditions on the 1 st. The latest heavy snowstorm was around 11 inches on Apr. 28, 1994. Another snowstorm of note was Mar. 3-4, 1985 which overall was one of the most widespread heavy snowfalls in South Dakota history. There were widespread two foot plus snowfall amounts from west to east across the state except the far southeast (where Sioux Falls had 11.1 inches of wet snow, sleet, and freezing rain).

Other South Dakota snowstorms/blizzards of note include on Mar. 2-5, 1966 and two storms late in Mar. 1975, and basically the whole winter of 1996-97.

6. Worst icestorm of the century...Nov. 15-16, 1996 with 2-3 inches of melted precipitation in the form of freezing rain, sleet, and some snow in the Sioux Falls area.

7. Biggest heat wave... The summer of 1936 was the hottest on record and had 21 days of 100 degrees or higher. This included 9 days in a row of 100 degrees or higher from July 9-17, 1936. Despite the hot "dustbowl" climate in much of the Plains in the 1930s, this did not always include the Sioux Falls area as we often had above normal precipitation during the summer months of the 1930s. The summers with the worst combination of heat and drought in Sioux Falls were 1976, 1936, 1988, (1894), and 1931. The highest recorded temperature was 110 degrees on both June 21, 1988 and July 17, 1936.

8. One of the worst cold waves ever was in Dec. 1983, which ranked as the 4th coldest month ever. There was a record 8 days in a row from Dec. 17-24 when the temperature stayed below zero and numerous daily low records were set. Blizzard conditions existed from the 23-24th with wind chills down to 80 below zero at times. The coldest month on record was Feb. 1936 with an average of 0.5 degree and the coldest winter was 1978-79 with an average of 8.0 degrees from Dec. thru Feb.

9. Biggest flash flood... late afternoon of May 22, 1993. 5 to 7.5 inches of rain and hail fell within 3 hours associated with a stationary thunderstorm in southwest Sioux Falls, causing major damage to homes, cars, and trees. This event was the biggest heavy rain event of the wettest period on record in Sioux Falls. 22.55 inches fell at the airport from May through July 1993, the wettest 3 month period on record. 1993 was the wettest year on record with 36.10 inches at the airport. There was total of 42.20 inches at the airport from July 1, 1992 through June 30, 1993 (with nearly 50 inches in southern Sioux Falls), making it the wettest 12 month period on record. There was also impressive urban flooding on the eve of July 1, 1992 when there was up to 6 inches of rain in southern and eastern Sioux Falls. 4.02 inches officially between midnight and 5 am on Sep. 11, 1966 flooded basements and streets in Sioux Falls.

10. The first 6 months of 1984 also ranked right up there in one the wettest periods on record with record flooding west of Sioux Falls.

11. Worst downburst... early afternoon for July 6, 1982. Up to 125 mph winds destroyed many large trees in various microburst swaths from southwest to northeast in Sioux Falls. On Sept. 7, 1971 at around 630 PM, 70-90 mph thunderstorm winds caused extensive damage in southwest Sioux Falls.

12. Biggest tornado outbreaks... June 7, 1993 (north of Sioux Falls); May 30, 1998 at Spencer, SD; June 16, 1992 (again north of Sioux Falls); small tornado extensively damaged 6 houses in western Sioux Falls on July 17, 1989.

13. There have been many severe thunderstorms in Sioux Falls, but one of the worst was on the late evening of June 27, 1990 when there was up to 4 inches of rain and hail within one hour and 71 mph winds mainly on the west side of Sioux Falls.

14. Other significant rain events include... the month of September 1986 with 9.26 inches officially at the airport (very close to the all-time wettest month on record), but with around 12 inches in the southeast half of Sioux Falls, most of which fell within a two week period mid-month. This caused the biggest fall flood in history on the Big Sioux River.

15. The heaviest official rain event for Sioux Falls was 4.59 inches at the airport on Aug. 1, 1975.


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