Black Hills Knowledge Netowork

Police officers assist a vehicle during the Blizzard of 1949.
Police officers assist a vehicle during the Blizzard of 1949.
National Weather Service photo
January 4, 2016

IN HISTORY: Blizzard of 1949

The Blizzard of 1949 is considered one of the worst on record for the Northern Plains. The first storm began Jan. 2 and continued through Jan. 5, with heavy snow, strong winds and cold temperatures, according to the National Weather Service.
Subsequent storms through mid-February produced enormous snow drifts that paralyzed much of the region. Roads and railroads were blocked, so airplanes were used to bring food and medical supplies to isolated towns and hay to livestock.

One person died in western South Dakota, and 12 deaths were reported in Wyoming, 7 in Colorado and 20 in Nebraska. 

Rapid City Weather Bureau Office Meteorologist-in-Charge Fred H. McNally wrote: "This is rated as the most severe blizzard in Rapid City history, considering wind, snow and temperature factors." 

The average wind recorded by the Weather Bureau Airport Station at the Rapid City Municipal Airport (now Ellsworth Air Force Base) on Jan. 3 was 51.8 mph and on Jan. 4 was 55.7 mph with the highest single wind gust at 73 mph. The Air Force Base Weather Office, across the field from the WBAS, reported gusts in excess of 90 mph. Snowfall from Jan. 2-5 ranged from several inches to several feet. Temperatures dropped well below zero across northwestern South Dakota.
January 1949 is the snowiest January on record for many of the observing stations in the Black Hills region. Snowfall during the month ranged from 12 to over 40 inches-three to eight times the normal level of four to eight inches. The month was also one of the coldest Januarys recorded, even with several days between blizzards reaching highs in the 50s and even 60s.
Two accounts of the storm, including personal stories from South Dakota and Nebraska residents, were written by Harl A. Dalstrom and Kay Calame Dalstrom:

"It's 'Going Down in History': The Blizzards of 1949"South Dakota History 29 (Winter 1999): 263-326
The National Weather Service continues to collect stories from the blizzard. Readers may send their memories of the blizzard by email to 
Use "Blizzard of 1949" as the subject line or write to National Weather Service, 300 E. Signal Dr, Rapid City, SD 57701.

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