It's times like these, after encountering a blizzard of near-epic proportions, as we just experienced over the Christmas holiday, that you expect to hear some old-timers at the local cafe sniff and say, "Yeah, it almost reminded me of the storm back in nineteen-aught-three. Now THAT was a blizzard that these young whipper-snappers wouldn't know how to deal with…"
Guess what? When it comes to significant weather happenings in South Dakota, I suddenly fit the definition of old-timer. Because, if I really wanted to, I also could sit over coffee and regale some helpless university student about all of the storms I remember.
It's not exactly a pleasant experience to suddenly be made aware that you have been around long enough to experience most of the major weather happenings in the state since people began keeping record of storm totals and intensities.
As my daughters would say, "Geez, you're getting old."
See if you remember these significant bouts South Dakota has experienced with Mother Nature over the years, according to the National Weather Service:
The blizzard of Jan. 10-11, 1975, was widely considered to be the worst blizzard of the century in this area. There was only seven inches of snow measured at Sioux Falls, but wind gusts were up to 70 mph, wind chills were down to 70 below zero, and visibilities were below a quarter mile at the airport for 24 straight hours. There were eight deaths in South Dakota during the storm, but only two can be attributed directly to the storm. Two college students from Sioux Falls died from exposure when their car stalled three miles east of Sioux Falls. A 2000 foot high broadcast tower east of Sioux Falls collapsed due to the storm. Livestock loss was an estimated 10 to 15 thousand head.
Another blizzard of note for areas west of Sioux Falls was the famous April 13-14, 1986 blizzard in much of South Dakota which caused some of the worst livestock losses in history.
The biggest snowstorm in our history was 32.2 inches snowfall from Feb. 16-18, 1962 with 26.0 inches in 24 hours from Feb. 17-18. This storm also contributed to the snowiest month on record with 48.4 inches for February 1962.
The snowiest winter in history was 94.7 inches from 1968-69 with a real whopper snowstorm on Dec. 21-22, 1968 of 17.7 inches getting the (snow)ball rolling. This storm caused 16.6 inches in 24 hours and snowdrifts up to 10 feet in the area. This winter was followed by all-time record high river stages for the Big Sioux River at Sioux Falls in April 1969 all due to the snowmelt.
The earliest heavy snowstorm was the famous Halloween 1991 snowstorm from Oct. 31 to Nov. 1 with a foot of snowfall and blizzard conditions on the Nov. 1. The latest heavy snowstorm was around 11 inches on April 28, 1994. Another snowstorm of note was March 3-4, 1985 which overall was one of the most widespread heavy snowfalls in South Dakota history. There were widespread two foot plus snowfall amounts from west to east across the state except the far southeast (where Sioux Falls had 11.1 inches of wet snow, sleet, and freezing rain).
Other South Dakota snowstorms/blizzards of note include on March 2-5, 1966 and two storms late in March 1975, and basically the whole winter of 1996-97.
Worst icestorm of the century – Nov. 15-16, 1996 with two to three inches of melted precipitation in the form of freezing rain, sleet, and some snow in the Sioux Falls area.
One of the worst cold waves ever was in December 1983, which ranked as the fourth coldest month ever. There was a record eight days in a row from Dec. 17-24 when the temperature stayed below zero and numerous daily low records were set. Blizzard conditions existed from Dec. 23-24 with wind chills down to 80 below zero at times. The coldest month on record was Feb. 1936 with an average of 0.5 degree and the coldest winter was 1978-79 with an average of 8.0 degrees from December thru February.