Joe's Corner

The Spring of 1995

By Joe Sheehan
National Weather Service
Sioux Falls, SD


Any longtime resident of South Dakota will testify that when it comes to the weather, expect the unusual with large temperature swings in short periods of time and periods of drought and extreme wetness. With the southern border located near 43 degrees north latitude and the northern border near 46 degrees north latitude, South Dakota lies in the mid latitudes. The mid latitudes are characterized by a persistent jet stream, stronger in the winter months, that steers and affects the weather systems and is a constant battleground that separates polar air from the north and tropical air from the south. Moisture from the gulf of Mexico can sometimes bring excessive rain or snow to the state as strong storm systems traverse the area.

During the late winter and early spring of 1995, an active weather pattern set up with a persistent strong trough of low pressure in the upper atmosphere over the western U.S.. One major storm system after another moved from the southwest U.S. into the central and northern plain states. Three of these storms occurred during the latter part of March into April and brought incredible snows that totaled from three to five plus feet across parts of south central and central South Dakota.

Prior to the first of these storms, a dramatic temperature change occurred during the second week of the month of March as record and near record breaking cold arctic air was replaced by record or near record warmth three days later. On the morning of March 8, a ridge of high pressure at the surface was located across eastern South Dakota. Morning low temperatures were generally from 10 degrees below zero to 20 degrees below zero with somewhat milder readings across the southwest. Coldest temperatures occurred across the northeast where Aberdeen fell to 32 degrees below zero, the coldest March temperature recorded in that city. Three days later, on March 11, the afternoon temperature rose to 46 degrees in Aberdeen, the 50s across much of the north into the east central, the 60s northwest and southeast and in the 70s to the middle 80s across south central and southwest South Dakota. Wood South Dakota was the warmest that day with a high of 87 degrees, or 96 degrees warmer than the morning low of 9 degrees below zero set just three days earlier. Other communities that recorded similarly impressive temperature swings include the following:

City March 8 minimum March 11 maximum Temperature difference
Winner 8 below zero 82 degrees 90 degrees
Academy 14 below zero 76 degrees 90 degrees
Dupree 22 below zero 68 degrees 90 degrees
Cedar Butte 5 below zero 85 degrees 90 degrees
Long Valley 7 below zero 84 degrees  91 degrees
Mission 10 below zero 83 degrees 93 degrees
Pierre 14 below zero 80 degrees 94 degrees
Murdo 10 below zero 86 degrees 96 degrees
near Porcupine 16 below zero 81 degrees 97 degrees
Kennebec 15 below zero 83 degrees 98 degrees
Midland 16 below zero 85 degrees 101 degrees

The first of the three storms occurred March 25-28 bringing 4 to 8 inches of snow from the south central through the northeast. Up to a foot of snow fell on Winner and Eureka. This storm was more note worthy however for the heavy rains across southeast South Dakota. Two to nearly four inches of rain fell across the area breaking both daily and monthly rainfall records. In Sioux Falls, the 2.39 inches of rain on the 25th set a daily rainfall record for the date and was the wettest March day on the record books. The precipitation total for the month in Sioux Falls of 4.06 inches broke the record for the wettest March on record. Other rainfall amounts from this storm include the following:

City Rainfall City Rainfall City Rainfall
Chester 1.77 Pickstown  2.14 Tydall  2.34
Vermillion 2.36 Armour 2.60 Lyons 2.60
Wagner 2.68 Canton 2.78 Centerville 2.82
Yankton 2.85 Mitchell 2.95 Bridgewater 3.00
Sioux Falls 3.00 Menno 3.61 Marion 3.87

The second major storm was the most prolific of the three in terms of snowfall with much of the state receiving at least a foot of snow April 9-12. Snowfall in excess of 20 inches occurred across the central extending from Winner northward to Eureka. Selby received 34 inches of snow and Highmore 34.5 inches.

While snowfalls of 20 inches or more are fairly common across the Black Hills, they are relatively rare on the prairies. However, roughly a week after the April 9-12 snowstorm yet another storm brought heavy snows to the south central and central with 20 or more inches from Winner northward to Highmore. The communities of Winner, Highmore, Harrold, and Kennebec saw not one but two twenty plus inch snowstorms within about a week of each other. Snow from the April 9-12 storm had just melted with rivers rising out of their banks when the third and final storm arrived April 17-19. After a high temperature on March 11 of 87 degrees, residents of Wood would see nearly four feet (47.5 inches) of snow in the following weeks. After a high of 82 degrees on March 11, residents of Winner would receive over five feet (63.5 inches) of future snowfall.

Following is a breakdown of various communities with individual storm totals and snowfall totals for all three storms.

City  Mar 26-28 Storm Apr 9-12 Storm Apr 17-19 Storm 3 Storm Total March 11 Max Temp
Mission 8 inches 15 inches 10 inches 33 inches 83 degrees
Bonesteel  5 inches 22 inches 12 inches 39 inches 70 degrees
Presho  6 inches 22 inches 16 inches 44 inches 85 degrees
Faulkton  8 inches 20 inches 18 inches 46 inches 61 degrees
Wood  9.5 inches 20 inches 18 inches 47.5 inches 87 degrees
Kennebec 2.5 inches 22.5 inches  23 inches 48 inches 83 degrees
Academy 11.5 inches 23 inches 15 inches 49.5 inches 76 degrees
Chamberlain 8 inches 23.5 inches 18 inches 49.5 inches 78 degrees
Murdo  14 inches 23 inches 16 inches 53 inches 86 degrees
Harrold 8 inches 24 inches 22 inches 54 inches 74 degrees
Winner 12 inches 22 inches 29.5 inches 63.5 inches 82 degrees
Highmore 8.5 inches 34.5 inches 22 inches 65 inches 70 degrees

The April 17-19 storm also brought heavy rains of one to three inches across southeast and east central South Dakota. Some of the rainfall amounts include:

City Rainfall City Rainfall City Rainfall
Alexandria 3.18 Menno 2.80 Yankton 2.76
Wagner 2.71 Colton 2.62 Mitchell 2.55
Marion 2.50 Pickstown 2.36 Armour 2.34
Sioux Falls 2.16 Vermillion 2.05 Huron 1.98
Flandreau 1.96 Arlington 1.06 Brookings 1.05

 Persistent and sometimes heavy rainfall continued into the month of May across South Dakota which aggravated already flooding rivers and streams and greatly delayed spring planting of crops. Rainfall was generally in the four to seven inch range across the state with higher amounts across the northern Black Hills and parts of the western prairies. Deadwood received 13.32 inches of precipitation for the month including 8.65 inches of rain between May 8-10.

Generally six to seven inches of precipitation occurs across south central and southeast South Dakota during the three month period March through May. During 1995 the three month period saw from 14 to 17 inches of precipitation. Precipitation amounts by month and three month totals include:

City March Precipitation April Precipitation May Precipitation 3 month total
Yankton 4.39 5.78 7.02 17.19
Bonesteel 3.14 4.82 9.01 16.97
Wessington Springs 3.66 5.70 7.60 16.96
Armour 3.46 5.63 7.83 16.92
Gregory 3.01 6.80 6.95 16.76
Highmore 1.80 9.08 5.87 16.75
Marion 4.80 6.25 5.55 16.60
Platte 2.59 6.53 6.92 16.04
Mitchell 3.59 6.71 5.56 15.86
Winner 2.37 6.39 7.02 15.78
Tyndall 3.43 5.03 7.32 15.78
Pickstown 2.84 5.25 7.65 15.74
Vermillion 4.21 5.08 6.44 15.73
Wagner 3.44 5.75 6.32 15.51
Menno 4.51 5.69 5.04 15.24
Academy 3.64 5.14 6.30 15.08
Huron 3.25 5.31 6.40 14.96
Sioux Falls 4.06 5.83 4.76 14.65
Chamberlain 2.25 6.17 5.89 14.31

The 14.65 inches of precipitation in Sioux Falls for March through May made it the wettest spring in the record books. Other communities across the area probably had their wettest spring on record as well.

The synoptic weather pattern changed toward the end of May and allowed for warmer and drier conditions across the state.


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