Blizzard of 1949 devastated South Dakota 70 years ago

January 6, 2019

RAPID CITY, S.D. (AP) — Seventy years have passed since one of the worst blizzards on record pounded western South Dakota with snow, piling up to the roofs of buildings and trapping residents for weeks.

State records show the Jan. 2, 1949, blizzard brought up to 50 inches (127 centimeters) of snow to the Black Hills over a month, with 70 mph winds and temperatures dropping to minus 8, the Rapid City Journal reported. The winter blast pummeled South Dakota and a large part of Nebraska for several weeks, leaving the region’s economy on the brink of collapse.

Chadron, Nebraska, saw at least 60 inches (152 centimeters) of snow fall in January 1949, and the ceaseless winds and snow kept roads and rail lines closed in both states.

Federal authorities led a disaster response because of the length of the storm and its impact on the area. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers launched Operation Snowbound on Jan. 29 of that year, focusing on South Dakota and Nebraska, as well as North Dakota and Wyoming.

The disaster response helped rescue trapped people, reopen roads and feed starving livestock.

In South Dakota, state officials also helped alongside federal authorities, using planes to drop packets of yeast onto city streets and clothes to people trapped in their cars for days. Dynamite was used to clear railroad lines packed with several feet of snow.

Rapid City resident Jim LeMar remembered the drifting and its longevity as the worst elements of the 1949 storm, according to an interview with the newspaper six years ago.

“We’d no sooner get dug out of one storm and another would hit,” LeMar said.


Information from: Rapid City Journal, http://www.rapidcityjournal.com

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