Weekend weather marked by winds in east, snowstorms in west

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Apr. 24—RAPID CITY — South Dakota residents this weekend were either watching for tornadoes or dusting off their snow shovels, depending on whether they were in the eastern or western portion of the state.

Storms of different types were the highlights of a weekend of diverse weather, with the Black Hills region dealing with heavy rains and winds that transformed into snow Friday night into Saturday. The snow was still falling in the area as of Saturday afternoon, causing reduced visibility and tricky travel conditions.

It got rolling with wind, rain and hail.

"We started out (Friday) with severe weather, and we also had some large 3-inch hail near Cottonwood, along with some golf ball sized hail around the Black HIlls and Custer," said Kyle Carstens, a meteorologist with the Rapid City office of the National Weather Service.

Carstens said the area did see some decent rainfall, including some areas that had as much as 2 inches of rain. That was a welcome shot of moisture for an area that has been dealing with drought conditions for some time.

"Overnight we had quite a bit of rain north of the Black Hills, with some areas picking up over 2 inches, which is much-needed with the drought conditions we have," Carstens said. "Then this morning the rain turned over to snow, and we're dealing with some areas of very heavy snow."

Some snowfall amounts in the northern Black Hills had reached between 6 to 8 inches as of Saturday evening, including one report of 14 inches of snow south of Spearfish near Terry Peak. Amounts had reached between 4 to 8 inches of snow on the plains north of the Black Hills as well, Carstens said.

The wind has been a serious factor in the storm, Carstens said. Wind gusts of 76 miles per hour were measured at the Rapid City Regional Airport at 10:03 a.m. on Saturday morning. Coupled with the snow, it's causing visibility and travel issues.

"With the snow and wind, we're dealing with a lot of poor visibility, especially in the northwest, but even east of Rapid City," Carstens said.

Carstens said the snow was expected to continue through Saturday night, especially in the northern Black Hills area and into the northwestern region of the state. He expected that some areas could see as much as another 12 inches of snow on what they have already received. The snow is expected to die down on Sunday.

"The winds will help dry down and it will improve some (Sunday). For the first part of the week, we're looking at things warming up and getting into the 50s and 60s," Carstens said. "Other than the big snow drifts, a lot of this will be gone soon."

If there was one thing in common East River residents had with West River residents this weekend, it was the wind. While heavy-gusting winds were roaring across the Black Hills, people east of the Missouri River were seeing similar winds without the snow.

"We have seen some really strong winds with gusts into the 60s and even into the 70s. They've been really strong," said Amanda Penning, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service Sioux Falls office.

Forecasts for East River were predicting scattered thunderstorms with the possibility of severe storms throughout the area for Friday night. What the area got was a few heavy thunderstorms, particularly in the area northwest of Mitchell, with a line of storms moving northeast through the area around mid-evening.

"We were forecasted for some severe weather which did form as it passed through. The threat for our area was not strong for tornadoes, the sheer profile wasn't quite right for those, but it was right for large hail," Penning said.

There were reports from around that area of heavy hail, with some hail reported as large as 2.25 inches in diameter, and some spotty shots of heavy rain, though most of the rainfall throughout the region only measured in the hundredths of inches, Penning said. Isolated spots directly beneath the storm system could have gotten considerably more than that.

Penning did say that about an inch of rain had been reported north of Huron, but otherwise reports of heavy rain have been sparse.

"In our area there was nothing much other than a few hundredths. Locally under the storm you can get more from supercells, but none of the gauges that we have have reported large amounts of rain," Penning said.

A small tornado did touch down just east of Wolsey, Penning said, though county emergency management in the area reported no damage. The tornado was small and did not undergo an official survey for size, though Penning said if it had, it would likely have been classified as an F0.

"It was not long-lived," Penning said.

While that tornado was small and short-lived, high winds continued in eastern South Dakota throughout the day Saturday. Penning said those gusts should begin to drop as the new week begins.

"We are going to slow down at the beginning of the week, but they'll continue to be strong Sunday. We're looking for 35 to 40 mile-per-hour gusts for Sunday, but they should start to slow down on Monday, where we'll see 15 to 25 miles-per-hour with gusts up to 30 miles per hour," Penning said.

In the meantime, Penning said travelers should be aware of the winds, especially if they are driving high-profile vehicles like a motorhome, which can be tipped over in strong gusts of wind. It's also important to be mindful of the dry conditions and take steps not to spark a fire while being outdoors.

"Be careful driving a high-profile vehicle. It's easy to lose control. And if you're working or doing anything outside and anything you do creates sparks, make sure they don't catch because they spread quickly. If they do, call the fire department. Don't wait, it will get away from you," Penning said.