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Winter Storm Atlas: Snowmelt Turns South Dakota's Black Hills Into Soggy Mess

Dirk Lammers
Published: October 7, 2013

iWitness Guzva84 captured this photo of mailboxes encased in snow in Spearfish, SD.

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RAPID CITY, S.D.— Residents in the Black Hills were navigating through a sloppy mess Sunday after warmer temperatures began melting record-setting snowfall, leaving standing water on plowed roads rather than making its way through drainage systems.

Law enforcement officials shifted their focus to recovery after having caught up with a backlog of emergency calls from the weekend storm that dumped 4 feet of snow near Deadwood and 3.5 feet near Lead. No fatalities were reported as a result of the bad weather.

"We're even Steven. We don't have 911 calls holding at this point," Rapid City-Pennington County emergency manager Dustin Willett said Sunday. "Most of our life safety missions have been completed and as we start out today, it's going to move to snow removal, debris removal and power restoration."

(MORE: Atlas' Wild Snow Totals)

An estimated 5,000 people in the county were still without power, Willett said, down from more than 25,000 in the area on Saturday.

Temperatures rose several degrees Sunday, which led some people to venture out even though many roads had not been plowed. Some motorists were still getting stuck Sunday and impeding recovery efforts, Rapid City spokeswoman Tara Heupel said.

Willett said the melt from the "impressive drifts and ridiculous amounts of snow" was causing a "slushy watery quagmire," partly because the snow buildup on plowed highways was creating channels and making it difficult for the drainage system to work normally. However, Rapid Creek wasn't expected to flood.

"Is the creek going to be up? Absolutely. Is the creek going to be in an action stage or flood stage? Probably not," Willett said.

Dave Barber, National Weather Service meteorologist in Rapid City, said most flooding problems from snowmelt occur when the ground is frozen — that isn't the case with this storm.

"In this part of the state, it's been not real dry but relatively dry," he said. "So, stock dams and small ponds are, if not dry, at least low and have capacity to absorb a good bit of water that does run off."

(MORE: Tornado Hits Four States, Causes Widespread Damage)

Reports of 20 or more inches of snow were common throughout the Black Hills. Barber said the 21½ inches in Rapid City were a record for both a 24-hour period in October and the entire month.

"There was a lot of water vapor present on the east side of the system that got pulled around as the storm developed," Barber said. "It slowed down and did so in the right spot for western South Dakota to get clobbered."

Authorities used snowmobiles to help rescue some motorists Saturday. The storm closed many highways, including Interstate 90, which remained closed from Wall to the Wyoming border.

"At least we're beyond the phase where as soon as the plows go through, the road gets closed behind them because of blowing snow," Barber said. "That's what they were fighting Saturday, at least early in the day."

Wind gusts of more than 70 mph were reported around the Rapid City area, resulting in downed trees and branches. City officials on Sunday told residents to leave tree branches and debris on their property until drop-off sites could be prepared.

The Red Cross had 35 people at a shelter in a Rapid City high school Saturday night, including four residents who were displaced by a house fire, said Michelle Lewis, Red Cross spokeswoman. Volunteers from South Dakota and North Dakota were scheduled to arrive Monday with supplies and equipment, she said.

Sunday is expected to be sunny with his in the 40s - perhaps low 50s - in most of the Black Hills region.

"If there wasn't a whole lot of snow on the ground it would be an absolutely beautiful Sunday," Willett said.

MORE: Atlas' Severe Weather Side

This photo shows damage from a tornado, Saturday, Oct. 5, 2013 in Wayne, Neb. As many as nine tornadoes hit an area covering northeast Nebraska and northwest Iowa, causing structural damage and injuries but no fatalities, the National Weather Service said Saturday. (AP Photo/Nebraska State Patrol)

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