Snow storm in Dakotas breaks records, helps moisture

Farm Forum

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — A record-breaking winter-like storm that brought heavy snow to the Dakotas could help ease dry conditions and lessen the danger of wildfires, officials said.

The storm dumped more than 8 inches of snow on southern North Dakota and more than a foot on western South Dakota’s Black Hills over last weekend. It continued into Monday morning in southeastern North Dakota and north central South Dakota, with another couple of inches of snow and strong winds making travel hazardous in some areas.

There were no immediate reports of livestock losses in North Dakota, according to Julie Ellingson, executive vice president of the North Dakota Stockmen’s Association.

In South Dakota, where ranchers are still recovering from a devastating early fall blizzard in 2013, “I think we’re going to come through this one OK,” said Silvia Christen, executive director of the South Dakota Stockgrowers Association.

“Some areas certainly have deep snow — 8 to 15 inches — and it certainly wasn’t easy on the livestock,” she said. “But many of our ranchers were still on their winter pasture where (cattle) have protection, there was a very very accurate forecast, and the wind didn’t blow so strong.”

The storm broke daily snowfall records in Rapid City on both Saturday and Sunday that had stood for a half century or more, according to National Weather Service reports.

The 13 total inches of snow also was the second-most for a May storm in Rapid City, behind 15 inches on May 3-4, 1905, weather service meteorologist Susan Sanders said.

High temperatures in the two states are expected to climb into the 50s, 60s and 70s the rest of the week. A quick snow melt combined with expected rain later in the week could lead to flooding from the Black Hills into central South Dakota, mainly in rural areas, Sanders said. There also could be some localized flooding in rural areas in North Dakota, said Zack Hargrove, a weather service meteorologist in Bismarck.

“The good thing is, since we haven’t had a lot of precipitation, the ground is going to be able to absorb a lot of it,” he said.

The moisture should help green up lawns and boost newly planted crops. Before the storm, the U.S. Drought Monitor map showed 27 percent of North Dakota and 78 percent of South Dakota being in drought, with much of the rest of the two states rated abnormally dry.

Precipitation for the month of May in Rapid City went from being 2.5 inches below normal on May 5 to a half inch above normal on May 11, thanks to the snow storm and rain that preceded it, Sanders said.

“We’ve made it up pretty good in the last five days,” she said.

The moisture also should help ease worries about wildfires, which have plagued both states during the dry spring.

“This should help with the fire weather concerns quite a bit. It should help with the green-up quite a bit,” Hargrove said. “That’s definitely one very positive byproduct of this.”