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Motorists travel along St. Patrick Street on Thursday, Dec. 30, 2010, as strong winds and blowing snow hit Rapid City. (Ryan Soderlin/Journal staff)

State and local officials encourage area residents to finish off 2010 from the warmth and safety of their homes.

Through the night, the last half of a winter storm was expected to add to Thursday morning's brutal weather by dropping blankets of snow, impairing visibility and creating potentially life-threatening driving conditions.

"We're certainly not encouraging anybody to travel unless it's absolutely necessary," said Capt. Kevin Karley, district three commander of the South Dakota Highway Patrol. "With the cold temperatures, it's really not worth risking."

Doing much of anything outside today will be cold at the very least, with a high of 1 degree, wind chills of 20 degrees below zero to 30 degrees below zero and 20 mph to 30 mph winds, according to Eric Helgeson, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Rapid City. The storm will leave about half a foot of snow in Rapid City and between one and two feet of snow in the Northern Hills, Helgeson said.

Temperatures started dropping Wednesday night, when an Arctic front swept over the Black Hills, bringing about 2 inches of snow to Rapid City and 4 inches to the Northern Hills. Thursday began with temperatures barely hanging onto double digits but dropped to 4 degrees by afternoon. High winds averaging about 35 mph blew the snow around all day.

Air travel proved difficult during the storm, causing delays and cancellations at Rapid City Regional Airport. Travelers are encouraged to check with their airline on the status of a flight and check local road reports before traveling to the airport.

Traffic flowed almost at normal rates on Thursday, and only a few accidents pushed drivers off the road, according to area law enforcement.

"Visibility is about a half mile in most areas," Karley said. "We've just been monitoring things. It's been much quieter than we've anticipated, and that's a good thing."

The basement of the Cornerstone Rescue Mission was unusually loud as Rapid City's homeless played cards, hung out and watched the History Channel.

Jack Knodell, operations manager for the mission, said the people that stay at the mission are normally encouraged to look for work during the day, but he made an exception because of the winter storm.

December is a busy month for the mission, with about 100 people staying each night to keep out of cold, Knodell said. Despite the mission's capacity, no one will be turned away during the storm, Knodell said.

"If they're willing to sleep on the basement floor, even if we have to make blankets for a mattress, we will put them inside," Knodell said. "Weather like this, we're not going to be turning people away."

The mission provides cold weather gear but is short on water-resistant gloves.

Thursday's conditions did not keep Peggy Boydston of Rapid City from her daily routine of taking her dogs to Rapid City's dog park near Cleghorn Springs Fish Hatchery. Unfazed by the winter weather, Boydston was the only person at the dog park Thursday afternoon.

The long-time Alaska resident played fetch with her dogs Lilo and Nani. Her mother's dog, Ricki, raced through the snow.

"It's nice that they can go free," Boydston said.

Despite the calm day, law enforcement was out Thursday night watching for shifts in the weather.

"We do have a plan in place to ensure that we stay on top of the road conditions," said Sgt. Tony Verchio of the Pennington County Sheriff's Department. "We've identified additional personnel to come to work if necessary."

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The storm may make New Year's Eve uncomfortable for revelers, but parties are still on scheduled to ring in 2011.

Representatives from Black Hills Central Reservation, which books hotels for the entire region, said they had received a handful of cancellations due to weather concerns but overall were confident most would be able to still stay in the area.

But the winter weather is not all doom and gloom.

Heavy snowfall is great news for area ski resorts looking to cash in on the holiday weekend with some fresh powder.

"We're just hoping we get good amounts of snow," said Linda Derosier from Terry Peak near Lead. "We're hoping everyone can travel. Skiers and boarders tend to brave the weather to get up to the ski area; we usually don't worry."

In addition to potentially hazardous roads, if winds do become too strong, officials at area ski hills will be forced to shut down lifts, but only in extreme conditions.

At Mystic Miner Ski Resort, also near Lead, officials say the new inches will only add to a solid base of snow.

"There are places on the hill where you'll already have powder up to your armpits," said Kristi Hamilton with guest services at Mystic Miner. "As far as we're concerned, there's no such thing as too much snow."

Staff writer Nick Penzenstadler contributed to this report.

Contact Holly Meyer at 394-8421 or holly.meyer@rapidcityjournal.com.

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