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Rapid City National Weather Service remembers flood of 1972

National Weather Service remembers the 1972 Rapid City flood.
National Weather Service remembers the 1972 Rapid City flood.(Nick Nelson)
Published: Jun. 9, 2021 at 6:19 PM MDT
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RAPID CITY, S.D. (KEVN) - Wednesday marks 49 years since the devastating Rapid City flood of 1972. The flood caused widespread devastation and loss of life, and it also changed the way weather is reported in the Black Hills.

It’s the deadliest weather event in Rapid City history. The 1972 Rapid City flood ripped through town, and much of the Black Hills 49 years ago this week. In total, 238 people were killed, and $165 million in damage was done.

Meteorologist Susan Sanders with the National Weather Service said that creeks around the hills experienced a torrential downpour. All that water then went into Rapid Creek, destroying a dam, and wreaking havoc on the city.

“All those streams flow into Rapid Creek, so upstream of town, all that water was coming into Rapid City, through Rapid Creek, at the same time,” Sanders said. “So, there was a huge all of water that came through town and caused all the damage and casualties.”

The flood caused the National Weather Service to set up a field office with a full-time staff. The NWS was only operating near the airport and had faulty communications.

Sanders said that thanks to the field office and modern technology, it’s now much easier to warn people of severe weather in the area.

“Now, we have NOAA Weather Radio that goes off, we have the Emergency Alert System, which is how people get those warnings, you can get warnings on your cell phone,” Sanders said. “There are all kinds of warning systems nowadays that people would be aware that something dangerous was occurring.”

Since 1972, Rapid City residents are not allowed to build homes on the Rapid Creek floodplain.

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