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Jim Holland, Journal file 

The former Belle Fourche High School/Roosevelt School Building Event Center in Belle Fourche is awaiting possible designation as a National Historic Landmark.

Storm lands like a lamb then roars like a lion

Downtown Rapid City looked like a ghost town Wednesday afternoon as wind gusts as high as 53 miles per hour hurled snow through largely vacant streets.

It will likely look the same this morning, according to National Weather Service forecasters tracking a storm that is walloping large parts of Wyoming, Nebraska, Colorado and the entire state of South Dakota.

“Even though the snow will stop falling (Thursday) morning, we’re going to see blowing snow throughout the day,” NWS Meteorologist Keith Sherbern said Wednesday.

The storm was expected to hit the Black Hills early Wednesday morning, but a mass of dry air hovering over the area prevented snow from falling until around 3 p.m.

At 3:45 p.m. Wednesday, the Rapid City Police Department issued a no-travel advisory for all of Pennington County.

The advisory was issued as wind gusts averaging around 40 mph created whiteout conditions in the rural areas, leading the Highway Patrol to close Interstate 90 from Wall to the Wyoming border. Earlier, the stretch from Wall to Chamberlain was ordered closed.

The storm also attracted the attention of the Weather Channel, which sent a team to Rapid City that included meteorologist Chris Bruin, who did live reports throughout the day.

Forecasters said Wednesday they expect between six and 10 inches to fall over the area by this morning, down from the foot that had been predicted. While forecasters expect the storm will taper off this morning, wind speeds as high as 50 to 60 mph could continue through today.

As a result, Rapid City area schools will remain closed for the second day in a row.

About 15 flights were cancelled by Wednesday's closure of the terminal at Rapid City Regional Airport, said Deputy Finance and Administration Director Toni Broom. Airport staff remained on duty, she said, while many airport tenants sent their employees home.

Broom said the airport hoped to reopen this morning but early flights would likely be delayed.

State government offices in 39 counties, meanwhile, were ordered closed Wednesday by Gov. Kristi Noem. The storm also led to the closure of a Veterans Affairs outpatient clinic in Pierre and all Black Hills National Forest offices.

With a prediction of nearly two feet of snow, forecasters said that Lead, Deadwood and other Northern Hills communities were expected to bear the brunt of the storm. Pine Ridge and parts of Oglala Lakota and Bennett counties were said to be similarly affected.

Five to six inches of snow had fallen in Pine Ridge and in parts of Oglala Lakota and Bennett counties by mid-afternoon, forecasters said. 

Between 10 and 15 inches are expected to fall in Spearfish.

The southeastern region of the state was inundated with heavy rainfall that was forecast to continue through the night. The NWS received reports of one to two inches of rain in that area by Thursday afternoon.

The rain and melting snow caused widespread flooding in low-lying rural roadways and farmlands, meteorologist Peter Rogers of the NWS said. Street flooding was reported in Sioux Falls and in Yankton.

Snow is expected to taper off throughout the morning today with temperatures hovering near the low 30s. Wind will die down by Friday, when dry weather and temperatures in the mid-to-upper 30s are forecast.

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Lt. Gov. Rhoden crafts veto branding iron for Gov. Noem

Lt. Gov. Larry Rhoden crafted the veto branding iron that Gov. Kristi Noem wielded in a recent video, according to Noem's office.

Noem posted a video to her Twitter page Wednesday in which she explained her reasons for vetoing a bill that would have legalized industrial hemp. The end of the video features close-up shots of a branding iron being applied to the bill, leaving a large “VETO” mark in what appears to be red ink.

Noem’s spokeswoman, Kristin Wileman, said the branding iron is the handiwork of Rhoden, a lifelong rancher and experienced welder from Union Center. The industrial-hemp bill was the first to receive the brand's mark.

Wileman described the branding iron as “a nice nod to the ag background of both the governor and lieutenant governor.”

Noem, a Republican, is not the first U.S. governor to wield a veto branding iron.

Brian Schweitzer, the Democratic governor of Montana from 2005 to 2013, famously set bills afire with a veto branding iron that he heated up before applying.

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Nursing homes emerge as winners in 2020 budget passed by SD Legislature

With a statewide blizzard looming, legislators stayed through Tuesday night into early Wednesday morning to pass a $4.9 billion Fiscal Year 2020 budget.

Senate Bill 191, the General Appropriations Act, passed the Senate by a 27-2 vote and the House 53-6. The budget goes into effect in July.

"In South Dakota, we do these things the right way," said House Majority Whip and co-chair of the Joint Committee on Appropriations Rep. Chris Karr, R-Sioux Falls. "This bill provides a structurally balanced budget for FY 2020 and the ongoing expenses are supported by ongoing revenue."

Nursing homes emerged as the clear winners of budget negotiations. After weeks of discussion among legislators about the state’s nursing home crisis, legislators granted nursing homes the most substantial funding boost percentage-wise.

State Medicaid reimbursement rates for nursing home providers will increase by 10 percent under the approved Fiscal 2020 budget.

Additionally, the Legislature passed Senate Bill 180, amending appropriations for the remainder of Fiscal Year 2019. Nursing homes will start seeing increased reimbursement rates as soon as April.

South Dakota's reimbursement rate is the lowest in the nation at $146 per day, while the average daily cost to house a nursing home patient is $181 per day. Over the years, those missing dollars have added up, and nursing homes throughout the state have closed.

The increase, however, doesn’t close the gap completely. Nursing homes still won’t be reimbursed 100 percent for their Medicaid patients, but they will be closer to full reimbursement.

“Is (the increase) going to solve the problem entirely?” Joint Committee on Appropriations Co-Chair Sen. John Wiik, R-Big Stone City, said on the floor Wednesday. “No, but it’s a good start.”

The Legislature’s increase for nursing home funding was more substantial than that Republican Gov. Kristi Noem proposed in her January budget address. She proposed a 5 percent increase in ongoing appropriations to nursing home providers plus $5 million in one-time funds to partner providers to identify potential alternative care options. The Legislature’s budget also appropriated the $5 million in one-time funds.

Other than nursing homes, Medicaid providers who saw the largest percentage increases in funding were psychiatric residential treatment facilities and community support providers. They saw 8 and 6.5 percent increases in funding, respectively.

Legislators also increased education funding by 2.5 percent to account for inflation, as well as state employee compensation, as Noem previously proposed. They also funded prevention programs proposed by Noem in January to address the state's methamphetamine problem.

In addition to the overall budget, legislators also passed Senate Bill 172, which set aside $500,000 for emergency relief in the case of natural disaster. Karr said the fund anticipates for a “rainy day,” like potential flooding anticipated in the state this spring.