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Black Hills Area Floods - 1931 to 1940

On May 6, 1932, a peak flow of 16,000 cubic feet per second (ft3/s) was recorded at station 06422000 along Rapid Creek at Creston. A very large and powerful storm system occurred throughout a large part of the Black Hills area on May 22–23, 1933.  A tornado occurred between Mystic and Rochford, and severe storm conditions were reported from Custer to Newell.  Lead reported 4.8 inches of precipitation in 12 hours and severe flooding was reported along Spearfish Creek, with additional reports of high water for many other area streams. 

Belle Fourche experienced substantial damage from two separate floods along Hay Creek on July 10 and 12 of 1937.  A July 13 article in the Belle Fourche Post described the July 10 flood as the worst along Hay Creek since 1923 and the worst in Belle Fourche since flooding of the Belle Fourche River in 1924.

Severe flooding occurred in Hot Springs along the Fall River on June 17, 1937, and provided final incentive for Congressional authorization for construction of Cold Brook and Cottonwood Springs Dams, which have regulated flows since 1952 and 1969, respectively. On September 4, 1938, a peak flow of 13,100 ft3/s was recorded during the first year of record for station 06402000.  Also on September 4, 1938, a very large peak flow of 11,700 ft3/s was recorded for station 06402500 along Beaver Creek near Buffalo Gap.  A September 24, 1938, article in the Rapid City Journal reported that flooding on the same date farther north along Lame Johnny Creek “was the worst in 35 years.”  This article provides an indication of an exceptionally heavy storm over a relatively large area that in combination with the known magnitudes of the other two large peak flows probably can be considered as one of the largest known storm and flood events in the Black Hills area.


The Fall River in Hot Springs flooded on June 17, 1937, causing substantial damage in Hot Springs. Photograph courtesy of David Batchelor (used with permission).
The Fall River in Hot Springs flooded on June 17, 1937, causing substantial damage in Hot Springs. Photograph courtesy of David Batchelor (used with permission).
Damage and debris left in Hot Springs by the June 17, 1937, flood along the Fall River. Photograph courtesy of Fall River County Historical Society (used with permission).
Damage and debris left in Hot Springs by the June 17, 1937, flood along the Fall River. Photograph courtesy of Fall River County Historical Society (used with permission).
The 1937 flood along the Fal River destroyed 13 rail bridges and 8 Hot Springs bridges. Photograph courtesy of Fall River County Historical Society (used with permission).
The 1937 flood along the Fal River destroyed 13 rail bridges and 8 Hot Springs bridges. Photograph courtesy of Fall River County Historical Society (used with permission).

flood iconPhoto gallery of the 1937 flood in Hot Springs



[All locations in South Dakota unless otherwise specified. Relative magnitude of event: 1, extreme; 2, severe; 3, moderate; 4, minor; 5, very minor; ft3/s, cubic feet per second. USGS, U.S. Geological Survey; --, not applicable]

Date of storm Date of flood Relative magnitude of event Primary stream Secondary stream(s) Primary town or area Description of event Source of information
1 2 3 4 5
-- May 6, 1932 -- X X X -- Rapid Creek -- -- Peak flow of 16,000 ft3/s occurred on May 6, 1932, at station 06422000 (Rapid Creek at Creston). U.S. Geological Survey (2009)
May 22, 1933 May 23, 1933 -- -- -- X X Rapid Creek Various Various Widespread storm reported.  Rapid Creek was high at Mystic.  Bear Butte Creek was over the highway near Ft. Meade for the first time in history.  Flooding reported in Spearfish. Rapid City Journal (May 23, 1933). Page 1; page 2; page 3; page 4.
May 22–23, 1933 May 23, 1933 -- -- -- X X Whitewood Creek Spearfish Creek Lead Widespread storm reported; Lead received about 4.8 inches of rain in 12 hours.  Worst flooding since 1910 reported in Spearfish.  A later May 31, 1946, article refers to substantial rail damage in Spearfish Canyon from 1933 flooding. Lead Call (May 23, 1933). Page 1; page 2.
May 22–23, 1933 May 23, 1933 -- -- -- X X Rapid Creek Bear Butte and Battle Creeks Various Article provided similar information as other articles for May 23, 1933.  High water reported in Custer State Park. Hot Springs Star (May 23, 1933). Page 1; page 2.
May 22–23, 1933 May 23, 1933 -- -- -- X X Rapid Creek Bear Butte Creek -- Article provided similar information as other articles for May 23, 1933.   Lead Call (May 23, 1933).
May 22–23, 1933 May 23, 1933 -- -- -- X X Whitewood Creek Various Deadwood Article provided similar information as other articles for May 23, 1933.  Extensive damage reported to area roads. Deadwood Pioneer Times (May 24, 1933). Page 1; page 2; page 3.
-- May 24, 1933 -- X X X -- Cheyenne River -- -- Peak of record flow of 114,000 ft3/s occurred on May 24, 1933, at station 06439500 (Cheyenne River near Eagle Butte). U.S. Geological Survey (2009)
June 22, 1933 June 22, 1933 -- -- -- -- X Beaver Creek -- -- Beaver Creek reported as highest in several years, with some damage reports provided. Buffalo Gap Gazette (June 23, 1933).
Aug. 26–28, 1933 Aug.–Sept. 1933 -- -- X X X Cheyenne River White River -- Cheyenne River reported as highest since 1926. Buffalo Gap Gazette (Sept. 1, 1933). Page 1; page 2.
July 26, 1934 July 26, 1934 -- -- -- X X Beaver Creek Elm Creek Buffalo Gap Beaver Creek reached "highest stage in years."  Water was 1 foot deep in streets of Buffalo Gap. Buffalo Gap Gazette (July 27, 1934).
May 31, 1935 May 31, 1935 -- -- -- -- X Rapid Creek -- Rapid City Rapid Creek reported as out of its banks in several places. Rapid City Journal (May 31, 1935).
May 31, 1935 May 31, 1935 -- -- -- -- X Rapid Creek Various -- Minor flooding in Rapid City reported with good rains throughout much of the Black Hills area.

Rapid City Journal (May 31, 1935). Page 1; page 2.

June 1935 June 1935 -- -- -- X X Various Various -- Moderate damage reported to highways and rail lines from recent flooding. Rapid City Journal (June 3, 1935).
June 1935 June 1935 -- -- -- X X Old Woman Creek Hat Creek -- Heavy, widespread rains reported.  Old Woman Creek reported as highest level ever seen as of date of article (1935). Edgemont Tribune (June 5, 1935). Page 1; page 2.
May 31, 1935 May 31, 1935 -- -- -- X X Boxelder Creek -- New Underwood Lowland flooding reported in New Underwood. New Underwood Times (June 6, 1935).
June 17, 1937 June 17, 1937 -- -- -- -- X Beaver Creek -- Buffalo Gap Beaver Creek exceeded capacity of rail bridge. Buffalo Gap Gazette (June 18, 1937).
June 17, 1937 June 17–18, 1937 -- X X -- -- Fall River -- Hot Springs Severe flood occurred along Fall River, with 13 rail bridges and 8 city bridges destroyed.  The 1937 flood is specifically mentioned in the article "prelude" as being larger than the "smaller floods" of 1938 and 1941. Hot Springs Weekly Star (April 18, 1946 reprint of June 18, 1937 article). Page 1; page 2.
June 17, 1937 June 17–18, 1937 -- -- -- -- X Fall River -- Hot Springs Substantial damage reported in Hot Springs from severe flood along Fall River. Rapid City Journal (June 18, 1937).
June 17, 1937 June 17–18, 1937 -- X X -- -- Fall River -- Hot Springs Flooding along Fall River caused substantial damage in Hot Springs. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (2008)
June 17, 1937 June 17–18, 1937 -- X X -- -- Fall River -- -- Photograph showing aftermath of 1937 flood in Hot Springs Original photos courtesy of Hot Springs Public Library and Rapid City Journal. Photo 1; photo 2.
June 1937 June 1937 -- -- -- -- X Ash Creek -- -- Vehicle was swept downstream in flood. Black Hills Press (June 20, 1937).
June 17, 1937 June 17–18, 1937 -- X X -- -- Fall River -- Hot Springs Two scanned articles available; one relating flood damage and one relating an account by the late Joe Petty "that the Indians showed him water marks halfway up the cliff" in Hot Springs. Rapid City Journal and Hot Springs Evening Star (June 21, 1937).
June 17, 1937 June 17, 1937 -- X X X -- Fall River -- Hot Springs Hydroelectric dam damaged. Hot Springs Weekly Star (June 22, 1937).
July 10, 1937 July 10, 1937 -- -- X X -- Hay Creek -- Belle Fourche About 50 residences along Hay Creek flooded.  Lead Call (July 10, 1937). Page 1; page 2.
July 10 and 12, 1937 July 10 and 12, 1937 -- -- X X X Hay Creek -- Belle Fourche, Vale Second flood reported along Hay Creek in 3 days.  Earlier flood (July 10, 1937) was largest along Hay Creek since 1923 and caused worst flooding in Belle Fourche since 1924 (as of date of article).  Almost 6 inches of rain fell in deluge near Vale. Belle Fourche Post (July 13, 1937). Page 1; page 2.
July 10–12, 1937 July 10 and 12, 1937 -- -- -- X X Hay Creek -- -- Two floods along Hay Creek and heavy rain near Vale were mentioned.  Reported that 7 inches of rain fell in upper Horse Creek.  Large benefits from widespread rains reported. Rapid City Journal (July 14, 1937). Page 1; page 2.
July 23, 1938 July 23–24, 1938 -- -- -- X X Rapid Creek Cheyenne River Rapid City Lowland flooding in Rapid City and some road damage east of Rapid City reported. Rapid City Journal (June 24, 1938). Page 1; page 2; page 3; page 4.
Sept. 4, 1938 Sept. 4, 1938 -- X X -- -- Fall River -- Hot Springs Peak of record flow of 13,100 ft3/s occurred on September 4, 1938, at station 06402000 (Fall River at Hot Springs). U.S. Geological Survey (2009)
Sept. 4, 1938 Sept. 4, 1938 -- X X -- -- Beaver Creek -- Buffalo Gap Peak of record flow of 11,700 ft3/s occurred on September 4, 1938, at station 06402500 (Beaver Creek near Buffalo Gap). U.S. Geological Survey (2009)
-- Sept. 4, 1938 -- -- -- X -- Cheyenne and Belle Fourche Rivers Fall River Hot Springs September 4, 1938, flood on Lame Johnny Creek reported as worst in 35 years.  Flood on same date in Hot Springs was less severe than flood of June 17, 1937. Rapid City Journal (Sept. 24, 1938).
Sept. 4, 1938 Sept. 4, 1938 -- -- X -- -- Fall River -- Hot Springs Article reported that the  1938 flood was higher in Hot Springs by about 1 foot than the  1937 flood, however, farther down the canyon the 1937 water level exceeded that of 1938 by about 3 feet. Hot Springs Weekly Star (Sept. 6, 1938)

 


References

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, 2008, The Rapid City flood of 1972—historic Black Hills floods, accessed December 12, 2008, at http://www.crh.noaa.gov/unr/?n=history.

U.S. Geological Survey, 2009, National Water Information System (NWISWeb)—Peak streamflow for South Dakota: U.S. Geological Survey database, http://nwis.waterdata.usgs.gov/sd/nwis/peak.


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