Black Hills Knowledge Netowork

Cattle with frozen coats made their way down Rapid City's West Boulevard during the 1966 blizzard.
Cattle with frozen coats made their way down Rapid City's West Boulevard during the 1966 blizzard.
Image via National Weather Service
March 3, 2016

IN HISTORY: Northern Plains Blizzard March 2-4, 1966

One of the most severe storms to hit the Northern Plains killed people and livestock and paralyzed many communities, reports the National Weather Service and a Weatherwise magazine article from October 1966.

An estimated 40,000 to 60,000 livestock animals died, making it one of the most deadly storms in the history of western South Dakota.

"Many of the deaths occurred as the storm began with rain and freezing drizzle, which coated their hair and froze their eyes, noses, and mouths shut.  Others died when the wind changed direction, driving them from their shelters.  The storm struck at the beginning of calving and lambing season, when young animals are more vulnerable to harsh conditions." 

Across the blizzard's multi-state path, 18 people died including six from South Dakota. 

Low visibility and high winds, with gusts reported up to 100 mph, marked the storm. Snowfall totals varied widely, but some areas received more than three feet of snow. Drifts covered vehicles and, according to Weatherwise, three trains along with passengers.

Snow map 1966 blizzard

While conditions were poor and visibility low in downtown Rapid City, visibility in the Canyon Lake area of west Rapid City was up to two miles. The city of Custer experienced no blizzard conditions. 

Snowfall stopped at 3:45 p.m. on March 4, 1966, according to National Weather Service records. Winds diminished with gusts reaching only 60 mph. 

The aftermath, as reported by Weatherwise: 

"... a fantastically beautiful fairy world of tremendous grey and white streaked, marble cake snow drifts that occasionally nearly covered some two-story buildings. Streets and farmyards were completely blocked by solid packed drifts offering stubborn resistance to all but the heaviest types of snow plows to penetrate them."

Later in March 1966, melting snow caused severe, prolonged flooding in the Red River region of North Dakota and Minnesota.

The National Weather Service invites people to send memories of the blizzard by email to [email protected], using "March 1966 Blizzard" as the subject line or to write to National Weather Service, Attn: WCM, 300 E. Signal Dr, Rapid City, SD 57701.


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