South Dakota flood outlook: James River likely to see no relief

Shannon Marvel
Forum News Service

PIERRE, S.D. — Even if areas along the James River make it through to spring without any major snowfall events, the National Weather Service is predicting major flooding along the river.

Amy Parken, a meteorologist with the Weather Service in Aberdeen, said the James River has been above major flood stage for more than 300 days. The Weather Service issued the latest flood outlook on Feb. 13.

In 2019, South Dakota experienced relentless precipitation throughout the winter, spring and summer.

“This one is more going to be set off in the fact that we had a lot of precipitation, and the ground is really saturated,” Parken said. “January was mild. We’ve had a few nice little blizzards here and there. As far as snowfall goes March has a tendency to be our snowiest month. That’s why you’re seeing the high percentages in the flood outlook.”

Parken predicted that the Stratford and Columbia areas along the Big Jim will have severe flooding.

The flood threat through this spring, both in location and severity, will be determined by future rain or snowfall, and how fast the snowpack melts, according to the report.

The James River will likely flood like it did last year, with the potential to be even more severe depending on the snowfall and rainfall amounts. Conditions along the James River last year were severe enough to delay major bridge replacement projects along several South Dakota state highways.

The South Dakota Department of Transportation was forced to suspend construction on a bridge along State Highway 37 north of Huron due to high water levels. Construction on the $5.3 million project began in June 2019 and was expected to be completed by November of that year.

As a result, the 45-mile detour for trucks and an 18-mile detour for vehicles will remain.

A bridge replacement project on State Highway 42 located eight miles east of Ethan and about nine miles southwest of Alexandria began in August 2019. The $7.25 million project was delayed due to flooding along the James River; though, the bridge remains open to traffic and work will resume in the summer.

State Highway 37 at the North Dakota/South Dakota border closed for several weeks due to river flooding after mild temperatures allowed some snow to melt.

Tina Titze, the state’s Office of Emergency Management director, issued a news release urging residents to start preparing for flooding now.

“The last year was no exception and many South Dakotans are still feeling the impact of last year’s storms that resulted in federal disaster declarations for 63 of our 66 counties,” Titze said.

Titze said now is the time to have a flood insurance plan.

“In South Dakota last year, the average amount of housing assistance from FEMA was about $4,000 to eligible residents, while the average insurance claim for flooding last year paid more than $29,000. With flood insurance, you’re able to recover faster and more fully,” Titze said.

From left, Davison County Emergency Manager Jeff Bathke and Mount Vernon City Councilor Dave Anderson discuss flood risks on a map with FEMA Region 8 Mitigation Planner Margaret Doherty and Aecom Project Manager Amanda Banks during a Davison County Flood Risk Review meeting at the Davison County Fairgrounds.