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Historic Storms Slam Northern Plains

A series of significant spring storm systems have left their mark across parts of the Great Plains States through the first two weeks of April.

This is the time of year when we expect these types of storms, especially severe weather and tornadoes, but this has not been the case. Heavy snow and mid-winter like weather conditions have been the headlines as we close in on the first month of spring.

Let’s start on April 9 when a low pressure system exited the Rockies and moved across the central plains. Incredible amounts of snow fell across western South Dakota and especially in the Black Hills. At the Rapid City Regional Airport, the greatest ever recorded single snowstorm total was observed with 28.2″ falling by April 10. Downtown Rapid City recorded their second greatest total ever measured, although records date back far longer than they do at the airport. My favorite towns in the Black Hills, Deadwood and Lead, came in with 30″ and 26.4″, respectively.

Not to be outdone by their neighbors to the south, North Dakota was in the crosshairs for the next system beginning on the 13th. An incredible amount of all-time records were observed in Bismarck, which go all the way back to 1875. First, a daily record for snowfall on April 14 was set with 17.3″ falling in 24 hours. This also broke the record for snowfall on any single calendar day of the year, besting the 15.5″ that fell on March 3, 1966. Also a new record for snowfall in the month of April, with 21.5″ as of the 15th, has been set breaking the previous record of 18.7″ from 1984.

Winter storm warnings are currently in place across the Rocky Mountains north of Denver, southeast Wyoming, and extending into northwest Nebraska and southwest South Dakota. A blizzard watch has also been issued across the plains of Colorado east of Denver. This storm doesn’t look like it will bring record snowfall like the previous two storms, but totals of 6 to 12 inches are likely for many areas.

To go along with these systems, cold air has been entrenched across the northern plains states since March. Much of the Dakotas and northwest Minnesota have seen temperatures greater than 10 degrees below average for March and midway through the month of April.

Fargo, ND has yet to reach 50 degrees in 2013. The latest date they have ever recorded to reach 50 is April 17. This will surely be broken and could go for at least another 8 to 10 days.

The below average temperatures have created a very serious problem for communities stretching along the Red River, including Fargo. The snowpack has yet to melt over North Dakota and northern Minnesota. Because of this, it looks like a top-five record crest of the Red River is likely in Fargo. When warmer temperatures do arrive, flooding will certainly be a major concern. The snow-water equivalent of the snowpack ranges from 4 to 8 inches for a large portion across these areas. It looks as though a spring flood on the magnitude of the 1997 and 2009 record floods are in store.

Residents here are no strangers to floods, though. In just 7 days, one million sandbags were filled in Fargo. There has been much attention paid to the threat of significant flooding this year, and preparations will be ongoing until it comes.

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  1. April 20, 2013 at 8:00 pm

    Christopher:

    With all this spring snow it looks like those hearty souls in the Dakotas will have significant flooding this year from The Red River – this river floods because it flows north and as it is colder to the north the melting water to the south dams up against the unmelted ice/snow to the north causing floods. I expect significant flooding this year especially in flood prone Fargo, ND, I will look forward to hearing about it in upcoming Weather Buff shows – Monday Noon-12:30 PM on 91.3 WBNY.

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