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Black Hills Area Floods - 1971 to 1980

Severe and widespread flooding occurred along many streams in the central Black Hills on June 9–10, 1972, in what is consistently thought of as the most outstanding storm and flood event that has occurred in the Black Hills area since European settlement..  Nearly 15 inches of rain fell in about 6 hours near Nemo, and more than 10 inches of rain fell over an area of 60 square miles (Schwarz and others, 1975). The resulting floods left 238 people dead and 3,057 people injured (Carter and others, 2002). Although Pactola Reservoir was effective in storing runoff that originated upstream from Pactola Dam, the heaviest rainfall occurred downstream from the dam. Most of the flow that passed through Rapid City by way of Rapid Creek originated in the 51-square-mile drainage area between Pactola Dam and Canyon Lake. Flood waters that reached Rapid City between 9:30 and 10:00 p.m. on June 9 carried large amounts of debris that clogged the spillway of the Canyon Lake Dam. The dam at Canyon Lake failed at about 10:45 p.m. However, the effect of this dam failure on the subsequent flood wave into urban Rapid City has been difficult to assess because the amount of water coming down Rapid Creek and several tributaries (accounting for 86 percent of the flow) far overshadowed the amount of water in the small lake (Schwarz and others, 1975). The peak flow of 50,000 cubic feet per second (ft3/s) was carried through Rapid City by way of Rapid Creek at about midnight on June 9, while many people were asleep and unaware of the impending flood. The stage of Rapid Creek (measured above Canyon Lake) rose more than 13 feet in 5 hours during the flood. Extreme flooding also occurred along Battle Creek and its tributaries because this area received some of the most intense rainfall. In Keystone, eight people were killed and much of the town was washed away. Boxelder Creek also experienced extreme flooding, although total damage was relatively low because of the area's sparse development at that time. Smaller floods also occurred along Elk Creek and Bear Butte Creek. Damage to the Fort Meade Dam near Sturgis was so extensive that the dam had to be demolished by the South Dakota National Guard by the end of June 1972. A photo gallery, aerial photographs, and flood hydrographs for the 1972 storm are available along with an account of the demolition of the Fort Meade Damicon from Duke Doering, Historian, South Dakota National Guard.

Prolonged heavy rainfall occurred throughout parts of the northern Black Hills on June 13–15, 1976, and many U.S. Geological Survey gaging stations in the Black Hills area recorded annual peak flows for 1976 associated with this storm.  Sando and others (2008) provided peak-flow data (in table 8 of that report) for 70 gaging stations along unregulated tributaries to the Cheyenne and Belle Fourche Rivers that were used in developing a mixed-population analysis for the Black Hills area.  Of these 70 stations, 41 have peak-flow data for 1976, and the annual peak flow for 30 of the 41 stations occurred during June 15–17.  This included all stations within and north of the Grace Coolidge and Battle Creek Basins.  Noteworthy peak flows included 3,870 ft3/s along Spearfish Creek at Spearfish (station 06431500), 6,780 ft3/s farther downstream along the Redwater River above Belle Fourche (station 06433000), and 16,700 ft3/s along Indian Creek (station 06436700). 


The wreckage of homes stacked up against bridge abutments.
The wreckage of homes stacked up against bridge abutments following the 1972 flood. This picture was taken on the morning after the flood when many bodies were being found in debris such as this. (Photograph courtesy of Dr. Perry Rahn, South Dakota School of Mines and Technology)
Flood-swept cars, pointing upstream (except for the Volkswagon bug), would stack on top of one another.
Flood-swept cars, pointing upstream (except for the Volkswagon bug), would stack on top of one another during the 1972 flood in Rapid City, SD. (Photograph from Schwarz and others, 1975)
After the flood, houses were marked with an "X" for condemned and a "S" for searched
After the 1972 flood, houses were marked with an "X" for condemned and a "S" for searched. (Photograph from Schwarz and others, 1975)
Photograph of U.S. Geological Survey streamflow-gaging station Rapid Creek above Canyon Lake near Rapid City (06412500) the day after the 1972 flood.
Photograph of U.S. Geological Survey streamflow-gaging station Rapid Creek above Canyon Lake near Rapid City (06412500) the day after the 1972 flood. A peak discharge of 31,200 cubic feet per second occurred at this site just before midnight on June 9, 1972. In the background are the remains of houses that people were moving into the night of the flood. (Photograph courtesy of Dr. Perry Rahn, South Dakota School of Mines and Technology)
The 1972 flood destoryed 5,000 automobiles, including these cars that were parked at a dealership on East Boulevard
The 1972 flood destroyed 5,000 automobiles, including these cars that were parked at a dealership on East Boulevard. (Photograph courtesy of Dr. Perry Rahn, South Dakota School of Mines)

flood iconPhoto gallery of 1972 flood aftermath and photo gallery of 1972 aerial photographs


[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
June 9–10, 1972 June 9–10, 1972 X X X X -- Rapid Creek Various Rapid City Various details provided for worst known storm and flooding since European settlement of the Black Hills area. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (2008)
June 9–10, 1972 June 9–10, 1972 X -- -- -- -- Rapid Creek -- Rapid City Peak flow of 50,000 ft3/s reported for Rapid Creek on June 9, 1972. Miller (1986)
June 9–10, 1972 June 9–10, 1972 X X X X -- Many Many -- Large peak flows occurred for many streams in Black Hills area, with peaks of record for many.  A table showing peak-flow values associated with the June 9–10 storm for selected gaging stations is provided. U.S. Geological Survey (2009); table
June 9–10, 1972 June 9–10, 1972 X X X X -- Many Many -- Documented the storm, flood, and damage from the 1972 event. Nearly 15 inches of rain fell in about 6 hours near Nemo and more than 10 inches of rain fell over a 60 square-mile area.  Schwarz and others (1975).
June 9–10, 1972 June 9–10, 1972 X X X X -- Many Many -- Fact sheet recounted the 1972 flood 25 years after the event that claimed the lives of 238 people. Carter and others (2002).
June 9–10, 1972 June 9–10, 1972 X X -- -- -- Rapid Creek Many Rapid City Web page describes 1972 flood event and provides photographs. http://www.crh.noaa.gov/unr/?n=1972_Flood
June 9–10, 1972 June 9–10, 1972 X X -- -- -- Rapid Creek Many Rapid City Web page describes 1972 flood event and provides photographs. http://sd.water.usgs.gov/projects/1972flood/
June 9–10, 1972 June 9–10, 1972 -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- The 1972 flood event was one of the most severe flash flood events in US history in terms of loss of life.  Numerous documents proving more details are available; however, providing a comprehensive bibliography is beyond the intended scope of this product. Numerous unlisted sources.
June 8, 1975 June 8, 1975 -- -- -- -- X -- -- Rapid City Almost 2.5 inches of rain fell in 30 minutes in the Rapid City area. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (2008)
June 13–16, 1976 June 1976 -- -- X X X -- -- Various Substantial damage reported for the northern Black Hills from prolonged heavy rain and flooding. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (2008).
-- June 15–16, 1976 -- -- X X X Various -- -- High flows in many streams in northern Black Hills in June 1976.  Noteworthy peak flows include 1,460 ft3/s on June 15 at station 06425500 (Elk Creek near Elm Springs); 3,870 ft3/s on June 15  at station 06431500 (Spearfish Creek at Spearfish); 6,780 ft3/s on June 15 at station 06433000 (Redwater River above Belle Fourche); and 16,700 ft3/s on June 15 at station 06436700 (Indian Creek near Arpan). U.S. Geological Survey (2009)




References

Carter, J.M., Williamson, J.E., and Teller, R.W., 2002, The 1972 Black Hills-Rapid City flood revisited:  U.S. Geological Survey Fact Sheet FS–037–02, 6 p.

Miller, J.R., 1986, Rapid City climate: Rapid City, South Dakota School of Mines and Technology Foundation, 66 p.

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.

Schwarz, F.K., Hughes, L.A., Hansen, E.M., Petersen, M.S., and Kelly, D.B., 1975, The Black Hills-Rapid City Flood of June 9–10, 1972—a description of the storm and flood: U.S. Geological Survey Professional Paper 877, 47 p.

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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