The 2013 Fall Blizzard of Western South Dakota

My back deck yesterday, after the kids dug enough snow away from the patio door to get out onto the deck

My back deck yesterday, after the kids dug enough snow away from the patio door to get out onto the deck

The guns have been silent at American Clarion for the past two days, laid low by a devastating fall blizzard in West River South Dakota. Power has been intermittent and completely out during that time.

The snow started Friday morning with overnight rain transitioning directly into snow. It was sticking and becoming slushy right away, and not long after daylight Friday morning, the power started to come on and go off, come on and go off.

By late Friday afternoon, the snow was starting to pile up: more than a foot in many places in the Rapid City area. At our house on the east side of Rapid City, power went down again about 7:00 pm…and stayed out for the next 26.5 hours, coming on again last night at 9:30 pm.

The snow stopped early Saturday morning, but by that time, we had somewhere between 2-3 feet in our back yard and even higher drifts in the front yard.

Fortunately, we have a wood stove in our livingroom that we haven’t used in over 15 years, and that I’ve thought more than once about taking out. We were glad to have it this weekend, and my daughter did a fine job of bringing in long-stored wood from behind the house and keeping it stoked. The only contact we had with the outside world during the power outage was my smartphone (with a healthy battery backup that I used miserly) and a small battery-powered radio that we dug out Saturday morning to listen to local AM news station KOTA.

All day we listened to local law enforcement authorities talk about efforts to clear the roads (a “no travel” order was issued by mid-day yesterday, with no travel allowed in Pennington County) and get power back on. Estimates of people without power in the Rapid City area ranged from about 40,000 to about 48,000. However, the entire western part of the state was hit hard by the blizzard, and so that number was undoubtedly much higher when taking the West River area into consideration.

We also heard many people calling in to the radio station on cell phones, stating they had been stranded on I-90 west of town and had spent the night in their vehicles. One man said they had run out of gas, but fortunately had some camping supplies stowed in the back of their SUV, so they wrapped up in them. We also heard reports of people being stranded in grocery stores, and some literally trapped in their hotel rooms by snow drifts that were higher than the door to their room.

By the end of the day, Gov. Dennis Daugaard had mobilized National Guard resources (many already in place, due to advanced warning of the coming storm) to help clear roads and get utilities back online.

We went to bed early at my house, with all of us in bed by 8:30 pm last night; there is only so much you can do with no electricity and candles for your light. My wife and I were just drifting off to sleep about 9:30 pm when we heard some clicks and pops, signalling that our furnace was coming on and several lights left on in the house were once again burning.

Thankfully, the last reports I heard yesterday indicated no deaths or serious injuries due to the storm. It seems the storm’s worst impact on people only ranged from minor to major inconvenience–and when compared to the loss of limb and life, that’s alright.

As for me and my family, it resulted in some frustration and boredom, but we can live with that. We came through it with some experiences that we’ll remember for years and years to come, and got back in touch (in the case of my children, for the first time) with what it’s like to live without many of our modern conveniences.

At some point yesterday afternoon, I reflected out loud with my family that this event should serve as a reminder to us how fragile civilization is. Our culture has developed an unthinking arrogance that we are so much better than previous generations, that we are much fancier and sophisticated than they were–and that reality unfortunately leads us to the false conclusion that we are smarter and more capable than they were. Yet they no doubt would have taken such circumstances in much greater stride than we.

And what would happen if such conditions were extended by some unforeseen catastrophic circumstance? What would we do if the genteel strands of government broke down, and we were no longer protected by the world’s most powerful military, and no longer had our every need supplied to us by a $3-4 trillion government? What would we do if we no longer had multiple layers of law enforcement and a highly complex judicial system to protect us from lawlessness and bad people?

Are we really as smart and capable as we imagine we are?

And are we really ready to surrender our freedoms and right to self-protection in exchange for government promises of complete provision?

These are questions we need to spend long and hard time asking ourselves.

Meanwhile, we’ll begin the process of digging out today in preparation for the coming week.

UPDATE: Lots of pics in this Daily Mail article.

The view on my back deck yesterday morning, with the patio table covered in several feet of snow

The view on my back deck yesterday morning, with the patio table covered in several feet of snow

The view out my front window once the snow stopped. Trees are wrecked.

The view out my front window once the snow stopped. Trees are wrecked.


  1. WXRGina says:

    Wow, Bob! I’m glad it was only an inconvenience. Our tropical storm in the Gulf has weakened to a depression and will just be a remnant low by the time it goes by–probably a little below–us. Good news.

    It sure looks like you all have plenty of snowman material! 🙂

    • Bob Ellis says:

      Glad to hear you’re going to miss it this time.

      Yeah, lots of snowman material…if we can stand the sight of it by the time we dig out the driveway. I sprained my elbow Friday shoveling some of it, so I’ll be out there cracking the whip (left handed) to get my kids to do most of the driveway digging today.

      • WXRGina says:

        Ouch! I would say I hope you put ice on it, but again, you probably want nothing to do with ice. 🙂 Advil, instead.

  2. thisoldspouse says:

    Glad you and yours weathered it fine, Bob.

    And A great lesson you gave to your kids. Modern civilization is, indeed, fragile as we rely upon, and take for granted, in increasing degrees modern inventions which are a mere EMP attack away from complete uselessness.

  3. Dave says:

    Wow!! I heard about it but the pictures say it all! Have fun!

    Isa 1:18!!


  4. SDJammer says:

    Here is a great product to have for various emergencies.

    You can use it to jump start your car, pump up a flat tire and in emergencies like Bob just had, it gives you an ample source of power to recharge cell phone batteries, etc. and it also has a light source on it. We got ours a couple of years ago and glad we have it on the shelf.