Carson Kennedy of Vermillion made it home to Hill City for the holidays, but a Christmas Day blizzard that crippled Rapid City and the rest of the state kept him from catching a flight to San Francisco on Friday.
All flights out of Rapid City Regional Airport were canceled Friday by a winter storm that also closed interstates 90 and 29 throughout the state. Kennedy and his family members waited for three hours at the airport Friday morning before spending Christmas at the Best Western Ramkota Hotel, along with numerous other guests who couldn’t get out of Rapid City by air or by interstate. Officials closed Interstate 90 from Rapid City east to the Minnesota border at 7 a.m. Friday, and westbound traffic was halted to the Wyoming border at 4 p.m.
“We got a flight rescheduled for Saturday, so until then, it will be Christmas in the hotel,” Kennedy said Friday. After taking 11 hours to drive from Vermillion to Hill City on Wednesday, he didn’t want to risk returning to Hill City to spend the night, he said. “When we left the airport, we almost got blown over by the winds.”
The airport closed at 3 p.m. Friday because of severe weather but planned to reopen at 6 a.m. today -- depending on the weather.
On Friday afternoon, the state Office of Emergency Services issued a no-travel advisory for all state highways in the Rapid City area. By 3 p.m. Friday, Pennington County Search and Rescue was called out to find a stranded motorist south of Wall, the Pennington County Sheriff’s Department said. Law enforcement was in cell phone contact with the motorist, who was safe and warm in his vehicle.
A powerful winter storm that moved from the southern U.S. toward the Great Lakes created blizzard conditions across much of the Midwest and the plains. It was expected to dump a foot of snow or more before moving out of the region later today and Sunday.
The South Dakota Highway Patrol reported no injury accidents or stranded motorists on I-90 or state highways in western South Dakota by mid afternoon, according to Highway Patrol First Sgt. Don Allen. Most South Dakotans seemed to be enjoying Christmas safe at home, he said.
“We got enough troopers out to handle whatever comes up today,” Allen said.
Kristen Turman, director of the state Office of Emergency Services, said three successful rescues of stranded motorists had occurred along Interstate 90, but near-zero visibility and snow drifts as high as 6 feet in some areas kept snow plows off I-90 and many secondary roads throughout the state.
Attendance at area Christmas church services may have been reduced because of the plummeting temperatures and rising winds.
At Trinity Lutheran Church in downtown Rapid City, the Rev. Wilbur Holz said the crowd at the 11 p.m. Christmas Eve service was about half the size of last year because of bad weather.
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“I think the cold and wind even kept some of our older regulars away from the 5:30 service,” Holz said.
High winds and poor visibility throughout Christmas Day prevented some people from getting to Christmas dinner at Cornerstone Rescue Mission, said Jack Knodell, head supervisor at the homeless shelter. The storm stranded several eastbound bus passengers at the mission overnight, as well, Knodell said.
Paul and Judy Vinatieri were among the volunteers dishing up a catered meal prepared by Anything’s Possible Catering on Christmas Day. About 170 people had eaten by 2 p.m., far fewer than the 300 or so they planned for. One of the people enjoying the dinner was Mike Carlson, a homeless veteran who is employed as a custodian at Rapid City Regional Hospital and staying at the mission until he gets back on his feet financially.
“It’s delicious,” Carlson said. “The roast beef melts in your mouth, the potatoes are perfectly mashed, and the green beans are fresh,” he said.
Knodell said the first catered Christmas meal was a “nice break for our kitchen staff.” Cornerstone cook Nicco Ponciano was on hand in the kitchen.
“We’ve got to cook supper tonight, anyway” Ponciano said. “But I’m hoping there are leftovers.”
Wind gusts up to 50 miles per hour, temperatures 18 degrees below zero and no-travel advisories didn’t keep skiers off the slopes at Terry Peak on Christmas Day.
Christmas morning crowds were slow at Terry Peak, but the ski resort opened for the day despite high winds, blowing snow and the looming possibility of interstate closure.
“You betcha,” said Tom Marsing, president and manager of Terry Peak. About 50 cars were in the parking lot by 10 a.m.
“We’ve got wind issues, so that may affect some of our lifts,” Marsing said. Skiers contended with sustained winds of 30 mph and temperatures of 18 below zero with the wind chill at the top of the mountain.