High winds rip across area overnight

High winds caused this buillboard at Exit 14 along Interstate 90 to break. Pioneer staff photo

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NORTHERN HILLS  — The Black Hills area sustained high winds overnight, some reaching more the 70 MPH, and the storm system is expected to continue into Friday morning, bringing more wind and possibly snow.

Susan Sanders, a meteorological with the National Weather Service’s Rapid City office, told the Pioneer Thursday that the winds were a result of the perfect storm of conditions.  

A cold front moved through the area late Wednesday afternoon, causing changes in the barometric pressure. Stronger winds are a common side effect of that type of rapid weather change.

“But, in this case, we also had a strong storm system above the ground, too,” Sanders said, adding that caused strong winds in areas that typically don’t see much strong winds, such as the Hills. “A lot of times, a cold front will come through and the winds will be strong in the plains but not so much higher up. And this is (due to) very strong winds quite a ways above the ground, too.”

“And then with the jet stream overhead, too, then the winds are going to be stronger,” she continued. “Because they what we call ‘mix down’ … that energy from those strong winds at the jet stream level (that) work their way down to the ground,” Sanders said.

According to a public statement released Thursday morning by the National Weather Service, the highest wind gust recorded in the area was 93 mph at 5:56 p.m. Thursday in Buffalo, approximately 70 miles north of Belle Fourche.

A 5:35 a.m. Thursday, Spearfish saw a max gust of 58 mph east of downtown. Lead saw a 64 mph gust at 5:15 a.m. Thursday.

In Meade County, Mud Butte experienced the highest gust at 82 mph at 7:18 p.m. Wednesday. At 2:16 a.m. Thursday, Sturgis had a max gust that measured 73 mph.

The max gust measured in Belle Fourche was recorded at 6:23 p.m. Wednesday and came in at 70mph.

Although by the early morning hours today, winds seemed to calm somewhat, as the sun rose today, Sanders said the area would likely start to see an increase of gusts. She said that is due to the sun heating the air, causing the winds to pick up again.

“When we’re all under the same air mass, they pick up during the day once the air starts heating up a bit,” Sanders said.

According to the National Weather Service, an air mass is a volume of air defined by its temperature and water vapor content. Air masses cover many hundreds or thousands of miles and adapt to the characteristics of the surface below them.

The Pioneer has received some reports of downed trees and power poles across the area, in addition to signs blown and twisted by the strong winds. Sanders said damage is possible.

“It’s possible that we’ll see some damage (due to the strong winds),” Sanders said, adding signs, trees, and more could likely be affected throughout the area.

Additionally, the Weather Service posted on its Facebook page about the “high risk” of rollover accidents across the region yesterday afternoon and evening, cautioning operators of high profile vehicles traveling along east-west roads like U.S. Highways 212 and 34, and Interstate 90.

The system will continue to pass through the area today.

“Today’s going to be very windy and much cooler … the high (in the Northern Hills) is only going to be in the low to mid 30s,” she said. “But skies will be mostly clear. There could still be some snow showers over the Northern Black Hills.”

Tonight, winds are expected to continue, as the wind danger is not set to expire until Friday at noon, Sander said.

Friday’s temps will likely mirror Thursday’s, but Sanders said the wind will likely lessen after tonight.

In the coming days, Sanders expects temps will remain relatively cool with highs in the 30s and lows in the 20s, Sanders said, with occasional changes of snow. Those temps are more typical for this time of year, she said.

“It’s just been extremely warm, so we’re just going to be back to normal readings for a while,” Sanders said.

So far, the Black Hills has had a warmer and drier winter than usual, and Sanders said it is difficult to accurately forecast what we can expect for the coming months.

“It’s really hard to say,” she said.  “The pattern that we’re looking at - the La Nina, is kind of unpredictable for spring. There’s no clear trend on precipitation. Sometimes, when there’s a La Nina, we could have a lot of moisture in the spring, and sometimes it’s dry. Until we get a little bit closer, it’s really hard to determine which one we’re going to get.”

On Friday, the “meteorological winter,” which began on Dec. 1, will be half over, Sanders said. Although she is confident the area will get more snow between now and spring, it’s too early to tell just how much and whether the area could be looking at drought conditions coming into summer. 

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