South Dakota Department of Transportation workers remove an Interstate 90 sign near Salem that was warped and damaged by the May 2022 derecho. The department has several more signs to repair months after the storm. (Courtesy of SDDOT)
Crews are still working to clean up damage months after the May 2022 derecho, which swept a roughly 100-mile-wide wall of dust and winds over 100 mph across South Dakota.
The derecho damage has a multi-state price tag of $2.8 billion, according to the National Centers for Environmental Information’s newly updated list of billion-dollar disaster events.
High winds struck South Dakota, Nebraska, Minnesota and Wisconsin, with 13 tornadoes impacting eastern South Dakota and 21 across Minnesota, Iowa and North Dakota.
“The winds were widespread and significant enough there was almost not a site that wasn’t damaged across most of southeastern South Dakota,” National Weather Service Meteorologist Jeff Chapman said, adding that there was more widespread damage after the storm than he’d ever seen.
The cost of public assistance in South Dakota from FEMA is listed at $2.4 million.
Rebuilding could take until 2024
Castlewood, home of Gov. Kristi Noem, was hit by a tornado with 120 mph winds that ripped part of the roof off its school building, damaging the elementary wing and its small gym, kitchen, band room and lunch room along with the school’s weight room and locker rooms.
Mobile units shipped in from Texas, costing $984,938, were erected in November to house about 127 pre-K through fourth graders, said Tracy Laue, administrative assistant for the district.
According to minutes from the Dec. 14, 2022, Castlewood School District Board of Education meeting, a public survey found that the majority of respondents would support a $6 million bond to repair and reconstruct damaged parts of the school. The district will work with an architecture firm on plans before an election is held on the issue later this year.
There was no mention of the status of insurance covering the damage from the tornado to the school. However, the school board established a tornado capital projects fund in July which has grown to $9.65 million.
Other parts of the state are also still fixing damage from the May storm, including local governments, private property owners and state departments.
The state Department of Transportation had about 170 signs on state highways and at least 10 interstate signs that were damaged from the storm. A traffic signal pole in Huron was rotated 90 degrees — footings and all — by the storm. The most significant damage to the state DOT was to salt sheds in Menno, Tyndall and Madison, according to Christina Bennett, a construction and maintenance engineer.
“Most of the work is completed except notably the signs on I-90 and I-229, as that work requires plans to be put out to bid for a contractor to replace,” Bennett said in an emailed statement.
The sign replacements were planned to be done by the end of 2022, but material delays and the onset of winter delayed the work until spring 2023, Bennett said. A sign and guardrail replacement near exit 1 on I-229 in Sioux Falls won’t begin construction until fall 2023 or summer 2024.
Multiple billion-dollar disasters affect SD in 2022
South Dakota was part of four billion-dollar weather events in 2022, including the May derecho, and the blizzards and arctic blast in December 2022, which resulted in nine deaths on the Rosebud Reservation. The official price tag of the December storms has not been calculated yet, though it is included on the list.
The two other events were severe weather and drought that included the South Dakota area but weren’t as damaging as they were for other states.
Overall, there were 18 billion-dollar events in the United States in 2022. There have been 341 billion-dollar events since 1980, 33 of which impacted South Dakota to some degree.
Some of the most notable events include:
- 1998 Great Plains high winds and tornadoes, $2.1 billion: The weather disaster included the Spencer tornado in May 1998, which killed six people and destroyed the town’s bank and water tower.
- 1997 floods, $6.9 billion: The floods of spring 1997 put nearly half the state underwater.
- 2017 Dakotas & Montana drought, $3.1 billion: Extreme drought affected more than 80% of the state and severely damaged crops, forcing ranchers to sell off livestock because they didn’t have enough feed for cattle.
- 2019 Missouri River flooding, $12.7 billion: One of the costliest U.S. inland flooding events on record, the March flood was triggered by a storm that intensified snow melt and flooding. Communities along the river were evacuated ahead of time.
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