By Chet Brokaw
PIERRE, S.D.: Breaking nearly century-old early autumn snowfall records, a storm system smothered South Dakota’s scenic Black Hills with up to 3½ feet of wet, heavy snow, leaving residents the challenge of digging out.
But wintry weather wasn’t the only thing delivered by the powerful cold front that crossed the Great Plains, as unusually strong thunderstorms brought heavy rain, hail and as many as nine tornadoes to Nebraska and Iowa. Fifteen people in northeast Nebraska were injured in a tornado Friday, while three died in a car accident on a snow-slicked road.
Forecasters said the front would eventually combine with other storms to make for a wild — and probably very wet — weekend for much of the central United States and Southeast.
Power outages and impassable roads plagued western South Dakota on Saturday. More than 25,000 people had lost power in the Black Hills area, and authorities were recruiting snowmobilers to help rescue about 80 motorists who’d been stuck overnight.
Rapid City plow driver Jesse Curnow said Saturday morning things weren’t moving so smoothly in chest-high drifts after a record 21-inch snowfall. He couldn’t get out of the business’s parking lot.
“I’m trapped. I can kind of move, but only a little bit,” Curnow said by telephone from the cab of his truck.
Pennington County Emergency Management spokeswoman Alexa White said rescue efforts were slow-going, because “the only way to get there is the snowmobiles or the Sno-Cats.”
“The plows have gotten stuck in the roads,” she said.
Also stuck were four employees of the National Weather Service’s Rapid City office. They’d been there since Friday, meteorologist David Carpenter said Saturday.
“There is a 3-foot drift across the parking lot and no one has had the energy to shovel it out yet,” he said.
Friday’s snowfall — 19 inches — broke the previous one-day snowfall record for October by about 9 inches; it was set on Oct. 19, 1919, Carpenter said. Rapid City saw an extra 2.5 inches overnight. Friday also surpassed the record for the entire month, 15.1 inches, also set in 1919.
National Weather Service meteorologist Katie Pojorlie said Lead, S.D., in the northern Black Hills had received 43½ inches of snow by 7:30 p.m. Friday and more had fallen overnight.