Cool weather, more precipitation in the forecast as area waterways rise

May 24, 2019

NORTHERN HILLS –– The precipitation — which has caused flooding in areas around the Northern Hills over the last couple of days — isn’t off the radar quite yet: The Black Hills and western South Dakota may get a reprieve from gloomy weather by the weekend, but cool temps and more precipitation will return next week.

Susan Sanders, meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Rapid City, said there’s a chance of rain nearly every evening.

“The next couple of weeks will be cooler than normal and on the wet side, as well,” she said.

All the moisture — from 2 to more than 5 inches of rain — has caused flooding throughout the area, and law enforcement and emergency managers in the Black Hills are keeping an eye on the Belle Fourche River and its tributaries. The National Weather Service issued a river flood warning for the Belle Fourche River through Friday morning.

At about 11:30 a.m. Wednesday the river was at 13 feet. Flood stage is 15 feet. It is estimated that the river will rise above flood stage to near 16.5 feet by this afternoon and then fall back below flood stage by Friday. “There is potential for flooding on the Belle Fourche River from the Wyoming state line to its connection with the Cheyenne near Elm Springs,” Sanders said.

Butte County Sheriff Fred Lamphere said Wednesday that the southeast quarter of the county near the Newell area and east have been most affected by the flooding.

“I’d say the major areas (being affected) are north of the Belle Fourche River and around Newell,” he said. “We’ve got a lot of big drainages (that) as they come to the Belle Fourche River, it’s inundated quite a few of the roads in that area.”

Lamphere said that roads up in the Camp Crook area are in bad shape due to the moisture.

Lamphere, who is also the county emergency manager, said he hadn’t had any major calls of people traveling on the roads in distress as of early Wednesday afternoon when the rain seemed to be letting up. He said he’d been working with his deputies and the county highway department monitoring the problem areas, which are commonly affected by flash flooding, and putting up barricades where water has crested portions of roads.

“Hopefully we stay ahead of anybody being stranded,” Lamphere said. As long as the rainfall continued to taper off, he said, he didn’t anticipate any issues with travelers.

“I can see the water rising still affecting the roads that are inundated already,” he said. “I don’t see us having many more roads that would be affected.”

Lamphere advised that drivers who come across a road covered by water to turn around and never try to drive through the water. When it comes to washed out roads, he said, looks can be deceiving.

“It erodes, usually, the downhill side, so it looks like it’s just a flow and a person could go across, but a lot of times it’s flowing over a culvert and maybe that culvert washed out,” he said. “So it’s hard to tell that maybe there’s a big deep ditch that’s cut in there, and it can turn into a real bad situation in a hurry. (Travelers can) get the car stuck in there or get swept downstream.”

A similar situation in 2014 during a heavy rainfall resulted in a woman’s death. Lamphere worked that case. He said two women were coming down a hill on U.S. Highway 85 about 35 miles north of Belle Fourche near Battle Creek during a June storm when the vehicle began hydroplaning. The driver lost control of the vehicle, causing it go off the roadway and sink in fast-moving floodwaters.

“And they crawled out of the windows and on top of the car,” he said. When the car sank to the level where the vehicle’s open windows started taking in water, it quickly filled with water and sank.

“That’s what put them in to the water and eventually carried them over the bank and down the river stream,” Lamphere said.

The driver of the vehicle, Roxanne Bleibaum, 57 at the time, was located alive a day later.

Nearly a year later, the remains of Kristen Lakin, 24, of Grand Junction, Colo., were discover by an area rancher about seven miles downstream. Lamphere said his department has been proactive, alerting the public of the flooding risk and road closures via the Butte County Sheriffs Office Facebook page.

“We put out some heads up on it as early as (Tuesday) morning just knowing that things could start going that way,” he said.

Other area rivers were also rising. Gauges showed that the Cheyenne River near Plainview was at 19 feet Wednesday afternoon. Flood stage is 17 feet. The National Weather Service also issued a flood warning from through Monday for the Belle Fourche, Cheyenne, Redwater Creek, Hay Creek, False Bottom Creek, Indian Creek, Owl Creek, Horse Creek, Dry Creek, Spearfish Creek, Red Owl Creek, Sulfur Creek, Cherry Creek, and Cottonwood Creek.

Doug Huntrods, Meade County emergency manager, said he has and will continue to monitor the flood gauges.

There also has been some minor flooding of roads due to a full Elk Creek in the area of the Royal Ranch subdivision north of Ellsworth Air Force Base, Huntrods said.

“The highway department was out there last night and again this morning doing what they can. But you can only do so much,” he said Wednesday.

Precipitation totals from this week’s storm, along with river and stream gauge readings, are available at weather.gov/unr/briefing.

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