It’s finally over: Rapid Citians can put the wettest year in the city’s recorded history behind them, along with all its floods, blizzards and winter storms.
The National Weather Service’s downtown Rapid City office recorded 31.73 inches of precipitation in 2019. That’s nearly 3 inches more than the previous record of 28.89 inches in 1962.
When 2019 began, it was primed for flooding. The previous year, 2018, had been the city’s fourth-wettest year ever.
Large amounts of snow hit the Black Hills in March, April and even in late May of 2019. The early spring snow fell on frozen ground and ran off into streams, creeks and rivers. Snow and rain during the late spring and early summer soaked into the ground and kept it over-saturated for weeks.
A period of flooding began, and the flood threat remained all spring and summer as late-season snow and persistent rain fell. Effects were widespread and ranged from annoying water infiltration in garages and basements to large-scale, life-threatening floods that threatened homes and washed out roads.
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The flooding grew especially severe following heavy rainfall in late May and early June. Some low-lying areas were evacuated, numerous roads washed out, and emergency crews conducted multiple rescues of motorists trapped in water.
In rural northeastern Pennington County, the swollen Cheyenne River created an estimated 25-foot-deep landslide when it washed out a section of Wilsey Road. Both the Cheyenne and White Rivers experienced record crests.
In early July, several Bear Butte Creek crossings in Sturgis were damaged by a deluge in the creek’s watershed in Boulder Canyon west of town and in Sturgis itself.
In early August, a storm dumped 6 to 7 inches of rain on Custer, causing flash flooding and knocking out electricity to hundreds of people.
Fall brought no relief, as a Thanksgiving weekend blizzard dumped 16 inches of snow on Rapid City.
Beyond Rapid City and the Black Hills, the weather was even worse in 2019 — including a destructive September tornado in Sioux Falls and flooding so persistent across East River that portions of Interstate 90 were covered by water for days.
As Gov. Kristi Noem said to the Legislature during her annual budget address in December, “Over the last year, South Dakota has been devastated by catastrophic weather events.”