Unpaid Rapid City NWS staff slept at the office as blizzard totals hit 58 inches

There are still some incredible story angles coming out of the Great Black Hills ‘Blizza-cane’ of 2013.

Several potentially unpaid forecasters spent the weekend sleeping  at the National Weather Service office in Rapid City, S.D. as the blizzard brought the Black Hills to a standstill.

Snow choked entrance at Rapid City NWS office. Image: Rapid City NWS

Monday the Rapid City office reported some jaw dropping updated snowfall totals of nearly 5 feet.

55 inches storm snowfall total at Lead, South Dakota

58 inches storm total near Beulah, South Dakota (highest recorded total from storm)

Here are Monday’s updated snowfall totals from the Rapid City NWS.

Image: Rapid City NWS

These kind of prolific snowfall totals are incredibly rare for the Black Hills Region, and I cannot recall seeing 58 inches in a single storm in more than 30 years of doing weather in the Upper Midwest.

The wind whipped snow took out critical NOAA Weather Radio and other sensors at the Rapid City NWS.

Image: Rapid City NWS

Unpaid NWS forecasters slept all weekend at the office

Talk about dedication.

Several forecasters at the Rapid City NWS slept all weekend at the NWS office to keep critical warnings and storm information flowing as the Black Hills region was getting pounded by near hurricane force gust that topped out at 71 mph and 3 to 5 feet of snow. Due to the government shut down these forecasters are working unpaid, with no guarantee of back pay if and when the shutdown ends.

Climate Central’s Andrew Freedman picked up on this message from an internal NWS chat room.

(This message has been edited to decode some of the acronyms.)

“Access to the office is still blocked. Two employees were able to hike in around some obstructions, but it is not possible to drive out of the parking lot due to snow drifts and downed trees in the neighborhood. The SOO (one who hiked in) is attempting to take two stranded employees home this morning. One forecaster hiked in for his mid shift last night, and I sent him home so he can come back tonight. Of the three who are on duty at this time, two have been here since 7 a.m. Friday, and I have been here since 3 p.m. Friday. We have two NWR (NOAA Weather Radio) transmitters down: Terry Peak and Rapid City. We have three ASOSs (Automated Surface Observing Stations) down: IEN (Pine Ridge, S.D.), RAP (Rapid City, S.D.), and PHP (Philip, S.D.).”

“We are on commercial power which has been stable since yesterday evening. Rapid City is pretty much paralyzed, and recovery and repair operations are in full swing. We have heard that the governor called in the national guard. Conference call briefing expected to take place later this morning. There is some concern about the potential for flooding with temperatures warming up quickly tomorrow and melting off the large snowpack. we have 1 to 4 inches of liquid equivalent on the ground and a big rain storm in the models for Friday. 8:09 a.m. MDT”

Sleep was a rare commodity last weekend at the Rapid City NWS according to Capital Weather Gang’s Jason Samenow.

In an interview, Carpenter said four forecasters remained at the office between Friday and Sunday morning, taking cat naps while rotating on and off duty.

“Nobody got a lot of sleep,” Carpenter said. “Just enough to keep us going as best we could.”

The forecaster who covered the Saturday midnight shift trekked an hour through massive drifts in the pitch dark to report to work.

“He’s a pretty hearty soul,” Carpenter said. “The drifts came up to the roof of a Ford F-150 pickup truck in our parking lot.”

Wind whipped snow drifts as high as this truck in the parking lot of the Rapid City NWS. Image: Rapid City NWS via facebook

The job performed by the staff at the Rapid City NWS was well above and beyond the call of duty last weekend. Especially considering they did it without the promise of a paycheck.