March 1st through March 4th, 1985 a major winter storm of wind, rain, ice, sleet, snow, thunder and brilliant lightning affected most of South Dakota. Snowfall amounts were generally 10 to 20 inches, nearly bringing the entire state to a standstill. The heaviest snow fell in east central and northeastern sections of the state where 20 to 30 inches of snow fell. Winds gusted to 50 miles an hour in some areas creating drifts of 5 to 20 feet deep. Huron broke their 24-hour snowfall record when 18.3" piled up on the 3rd. The Sioux Falls area received about a foot of new snowp.
Nearly 80 percent of state roads and highways were declared impassable from the 3rd through the 5th. Portions of the extreme Southeast were spared from the heavy snow, but were coated with ice up to 3 inches thick as freezing rain and sleet covered the area. The coat of ice combined with the high winds snapped power lines and poles across the Southeast. Over 1000 power poles were downed damaging more than 1000 miles of power lines. Thousands of people were left without power and water in their homes for as long as a week. The power outage was called the worst on record in the area. Damage from the storm exceeded 1 million dollars.
March 2nd through the 4th, 1989 a winter storm affected all of South Dakota. 5 to 17 inches of snow fell across the state. The hardest hit area was the East Central and Northeast where 10 to 17 inches of new snow caused travel problems. Visibilities were reduced to less than 1/2 mile for extended periods due to snow and blowing snow resulting in numerous traffic accidents. Some snowfall amounts included:
Sioux Falls 10"
Rapid City 8"
Trivia - The highest wind speed ever DIRECTLY measured by wind equipment on the surface of the earth is 231 MPH. This reading was taken atop Mt. Washington in New Hampshire. Doppler radar, which has the ability to detect wind speeds remotely, has indicated winds as high 280 to 290 MPH inside of tornadic vortices.
Obstacles to the wind, such as trees, bushes, and snow fences, reduce the wind speed and increase turbulence. This results in snow accumulating downwind for a distance about 10 times the height of the wind break. This explains why a snow fence 4 foot high can store 4 tons of snow for each foot of fence length.
On March 5th, 1966 a major winter storm was finally letting up across South Dakota as it pulled out of the region. The slow moving storm began on March 2nd in western South Dakota and continued across the state into the 5th. Snow depths ranged from 2 to 4 inches in the southeast to 35 inches at Mobridge in the north central. Winds were 40 to 55 miles an hour across the state with some areas receiving gusts as high as 100 MPH. The combination of wind and snow reduced visibilities to near zero during the storm. Drifts up to 30 feet deep were reported in sheltered areas while some open fields were nearly bare. The weight of the snow collapsed a number of structures in north central sections of the state.
Large livestock losses resulted from the storm. Approximately 50,000 cattle, and 48,000 sheep died during the storm. Many of the animals suffocated as the result of heavy snow and the force of the wind packed snow in their nostrils. Most of the losses were in central and north central sections of South Dakota. The blizzard rates as one of the most severe to strike the state.
California currently leads the United States in the production of wind power. Compared to other parts of the country California's wind resources aren't all that impressive. Here in the Northern Plains average wind speeds are much higher, giving the plains more wind to "farm" and convert to electricity. If done properly, wind power could easily become one of the most abundant and least expensive sources of electrical energy in the region.
The Storm of the Century across the eastern United States in March 1993 produced an unbelievable 50 billion tons of snow. If all the snow were melted it would produce enough runoff to equal the entire flow over Niagara Falls for 100 days.
March 8th and 9th, 1992 a heavy wet snow blanketed the southern 1/3rd of South Dakota. In the Sioux Falls area around 8 inches of snow fell to the flashes of lightning and crashes of thunder. The snow prompted many school closings across the area. Areas further west received amounts in excess of 10 inches.
March 9th, 1956 Sioux Falls was in the midst of a furious blizzard. Sioux Falls received 18.9" of new snow on the 9th. The rates as the second heaviest 24-hour snow on record at Sioux Falls.
On March 10th, 1998 a blizzard was just beginning to hit western sections of South Dakota. The storm continues through the 12th. Heavy snow and winds gusting to 60 MPH produced blizzard conditions, reducing visibilities to near zero in the west. Snow amounts in the west included 12" at Phillip, 15" at Rapid City, 18" at Spearfish, and 2 to 4 feet piled up in the Lead, Deadwood, Terry Peak areas. The strong winds helped whip up drifts to 15 feet. More than 700 telephone poles were lost resulting in $200,000 worth of damage.
Two National Weather Service employees were stranded at the Rapid City NWS office for over two days. Snowfall amounts across the east on the 11th and 12th were generally less than 10 inches.
You might guess that bad weather is often a factor in traffic accidents. But, it probably isn't as big a factor as you think. A study completed in 1991 suggested that 86% of all traffic accidents occur when poor weather was not a factor. Of the 14% in which weather was a factor, 71% of those were related to rain and 12% were aided by snow.
Crepuscular rays refer to an optical effect that you have probably seen many times. Crepuscular rays are streaks of light or bands of sunlight shining through breaks in clouds along the horizon. There will often be a streak of light next to a shadow where the clouds continue to block the sunlight. This gives an eye pleasing pattern of light streaks alternating with bluish streaks. The effect is also referred to as "the sun drawing water" or "Jacob's ladder".
A storm which started out as rain on March 13th, 1973 changed over to freezing rain and, eventually, to snow across western South Dakota and affected the area into the 14th. The storm produced copious amounts of snow in the Black Hills and surrounding Plains. Lead reported 52" of new snow, while Deadwood stacked up 47". The heaviest total outside the Hills was at Rapid City where 15" fell. Strong winds to 60 MPH accompanied the storm reducing visibilities to zero due to blowing snow and knocking down over 800 power poles.
Here's an incredible piece of trivia for you. The amount of water that evaporates through the pores of plant leaves every year is roughly the same as that which flows through all of the earth's rivers combined.
Here's a piece of weather folklore with some basis in fact. An old saying goes "If the new moon holds the old moon in her lap, expect fair weather." In fair weather conditions the air is more stable, which minimizes turbulence. This lack of turbulence allows us to see more dim objects in the sky than we would see in more unstable conditions. Since a stable air mass is typically associated with fair weather the statement holds true. So, if you look at the new moon and can see the outline of the remainder of the moon which is in shadow, expect fair weather.
Volcanic eruptions rich in sulfur may very well have an affect on the earth's climate. As sulfur gases, thrust high into the atmosphere by an eruption, react with sunlight and atmospheric gases they transform into tiny, bright sulfuric acid particles. These bright particles reflect and absorb a portion of the sun's energy. This increase in reflection and absorption means that less energy is reaching the earth's surface. A strong volcanic eruption can actually lead to a cooling of temperatures around much of the globe.
March17th and 18th, 1986 over a foot of snow fell across south central South Dakota. Greatest amounts were 18" at Cedar Butte (in Mellette County), 17" at Murdo (in Jones County), and 15" at Kadoka (in Jackson County). Winds up to 40 MPH produced 5 foot drifts. The roads across south central south Dakota were nearly impassable with 110 cars stranded on I-90 alone.
While southwest and south central South Dakota were getting snow, conditions in the southeast part of the state went from bad to worse as rain changed to freezing rain during the afternoon of March 18th, 1971. The freezing rain continued into the 19th causing heavy icing conditions across southeast South Dakota. The freezing rain deposited large amounts of ice across the area resulting in the collapse of over 500 power poles and large numbers of trees, as well as causing 1500 wire breaks. Over 10,000 people lost power for periods ranging from a few minutes to nearly a week. On the 19th the freezing rain changed to snow dumping 3 to 6" of fresh snow on top of the ice. The storm resulted in around one-half million dollars in damage.
A low pressure center moved north out of Kansas bringing heavy snow across central sections of South Dakota on March 18th and 19th, 1979. The heaviest snowfall was in Winner where 16" of the white stuff was reported. Other totals were 7" at Pierre and 6" of snow mixed with freezing rain at Timber Lake.
Widespread heavy, wet snow fell across the northern 2/3rds of South Dakota on March 19th and 20th, 1982. Snow depths were generally 10 to 20" with 40 MPH winds making traveling conditions quite poor. Numerous traffic accidents resulted from the poor weather. Up to 5% of the pheasant population was killed in certain areas in the northeast. The weight of the snow led to the collapse of a canopy in Mclaughlin (in Corson County) tearing out the brick front of the building and breaking windows.
March 21st and 22nd, 1993 heavy wet snow fell in a wide swath from west central South Dakota across the state and into the southeast corner. The snowstorm contributed to poor driving conditions and assisted in at least 70 accidents in the Sioux Falls area alone. The high cost of the snow removal exhausted the snow removal budget for Sioux Falls. Snowfall amounts included 13.4" at Sioux Falls, 12" at Canton and 8" at Flandreau and Onida.
Trees help keep the planet warm. Recent computer simulations of global climate and climates' interactions with the environment suggest that the dense Northern forests that line the north polar region help warm the planet. These forests absorb much more of the sun's energy than the bare or snow covered ground would. This absorption keeps the Arctic air as much as 20 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than it would if the trees were not there. The extensive depletion of these Northern forests could actually lead to a global cooling.
Strong winds and heavy snow produced blizzard conditions across South Dakota March 23rd through the 25th, 1987. Snow amounts ranged from six to nineteen inches. Snow totals included 19" at Winner (in Tripp county), 15" at Murdo (in Jones county), and 12" at Woonsocket (in Sanborn county) and Platte (in Charles Mix county). The wind piled the snow into drifts up to 10 feet deep. The heavy, wet snow broke power lines in several counties in the south central and east central parts of the state knocking out power for up to a few days.
March 23rd and 24th, 1975 the first of two strong, early Spring blizzards hit the state (the second would arrive just 3 days later). On the evening of the 23rd the storm started off as light rain across northern sections of the state. On the morning of the 24th thunderstorms developed across the west with the rain quickly changing to snow. The storms were accompanied by strong winds which made for blizzard conditions in the west. The winter storm moved quickly east that afternoon and by evening blizzard conditions were occurring across the entire state. In most areas winds gusted to over 60 miles an hour. Snow amounts varied from 3 to 4" in the southeast to 12 to 18" in the central part of the state. The northern Black Hills picked up an additional 2 to 3 feet of snow from the storm.
One of the most hazardous and damaging types of weather is freezing rain. Even a little freezing rain makes travel a nightmare and enough of it can snap power lines, trees, utility poles, and even collapse overhangs, knocking out electricity and producing large monetary damages. How many times a year does this weather phenomena visit South Dakota? Well, the Central and Western parts of the state receive 4 to 8 days of freezing rain a year while the Eastern 1/3rd of the state has 8 to 12 days of freezing rain on the average. The area that has the most days of freezing rain per year in the United States stretches from Eastern Minnesota, across Wisconsin, and into Western Michigan where greater than 12 days of the stuff can be expected.
On March 25th, 1975 the sun shone brightly on the snow covered plains of South Dakota. An early Spring storm just 2 days earlier had brought deep fresh snow cover to much of the state. However, another storm was developing in the Colorado Rockies. Snow began falling across much of the state early on the 26th. By the afternoon winds had picked up, leading to blizzard conditions in many areas. On the evening of the 26th the winter storm turned north and moved into the central part of the state. Blizzard conditions continued through the night. On the 27th, snow changed to rain and freezing rain across eastern South Dakota, forming a thick layer of glaze. The storm continued to plague the state into the 28th. Twelve to fifteen thousand calves and cows, over 5000 sheep, and nearly 2000 hogs were lost to the storm. On the 27th, a 1500 foot radio tower was blown down near Salem. Snow depths from this storm and the one that struck just several days earlier ranged from around an inch in the extreme southeast to over 30" in the central.
Rain and a rapid snowmelt caused the Big Sioux and Vermillion Rivers to rise to 1 to 8 feet above flood stage March 26th through March 31st, 1993. The worst of the flooding occurred in far southeast South Dakota where large areas of farmland were under water. The floodwaters closed, at least, 4 state highways in southeast South Dakota and blocked dozens of smaller roads in the east. Large chunks of ice on the Big Sioux led to many temporary ice jams. The ice jams took out fences and washed out roads. In some areas the ice had to be pushed off of the roads with tractors.
A slow moving storm system affected South Dakota from March 28th through March 30th, 1977. The storm produced heavy snow in the west and thunderstorms in the east. Northerly winds gusting to 50 miles an hour in the west created blizzard conditions as the snow totals mounted. Some areas in western Butte, Pennington, northern Shannon, and Lawrence counties received over 20 inches of snow. With drifts exceeding 6 to 8 feet many people in the west thought it was the worst blizzard in a quarter century. A few locations in the northern Black Hills received over 4 feet of snow. Because of blocked roads westbound traffic was halted on I-90 and many schools and businesses were forced to close for several days. Across the eastern portion of the state rains of over 1" fell in many areas. Milbank even reported walnut size hail.
An early season Tornado briefly touched down at Swett, South Dakota (11 miles west of Martin). The tornado overturned and heavily damaged a mobile home. One person was slightly injured and another barely escaped injury as he left the trailer just seconds before the storm struck.
High winds and wet snow struck the state on March 30th, 1982. Winds gusted to 50 to 80 MPH across the state and up to 10" of snow accompanied the winds in the northwest. Power lines and at least 1500 poles were snapped in the northwest after being coated with 1 to 8" of ice. Residents in north Garretson in Minnehaha County were evacuated when the high winds caused four connected locomotives to roll into and tip over a tank car, spilling phosphoric acid. After being weakened on the 30th, a 72 foot high steel grainbin containing 30,000 bushels of corn collapsed onto some adjacent structures on the 31st.
The warmest temperature ever recorded in the month of March, at Sioux Falls, occurred on this date in 1943 when the mercury climbed to 88 degrees Fahrenheit.
What area in The United States has the largest difference between the average of the warmest month and the average of the coldest month? Well, most of South Dakota has an annual difference of 50 - 60 degrees Fahrenheit between the average of the warmest month and the average of the coldest month. The greatest annual difference is over 60 degrees Fahrenheit and stretches from northeast Montana across north central and east central South Dakota and into eastern Minnesota. In contrast, much of the West Coast and in southern Florida, the annual difference between the coldest month and the warmest month is less than 20 degrees Fahrenheit.