OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — A blizzard that paralyzed parts of Colorado and Wyoming barreled into the Midwest on Thursday, bringing whiteout conditions to western Nebraska and dumping heavy rain that prompted evacuations in communities father east.
Emergency crews responded after a vehicle was swept off a road in Norfolk, Nebraska, and rising water along the Elkhorn River prompted evacuations of the eastern side of the city of 24,000 people. The missing individual had not been found by midmorning Thursday.
South Dakota’s governor closed all state offices Thursday as the blizzard conditions moved in, while wind, blowing snow and snow-packed roadways made travel treacherous in western Nebraska.
Heavy rain caused flooding in eastern parts of both states, as well as in Iowa. Several cities in the region have been hit by rain this week, with records set Wednesday in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, and Sioux City, Iowa. The flooding forced evacuations in both states, though no injuries have been reported.
“We’ve got a lot of water, and it’s got to find a way to get out of here,” said Tracy West, mayor of Lennox, South Dakota, where the 2,400 residents were asked to conserve water to prevent an overwhelming of the city’s wastewater system.
National Weather Service meteorologist Peter Rogers said flooding is likely to persist into the weekend, with deep frozen ground preventing water from rain and snowmelt from soaking into the soil
The massive late-winter storm hit Colorado on Wednesday,causing widespread power outages, forcing the cancellation of hundreds of flights and wreaking havoc on roadways as drivers became overwhelmed by blinding snow. A wind gust clocked in at 97 mph (156 kph) in Colorado Springs.
Xcel Energy said it had restored power to some 360,000 customers in Colorado but that thousands remained without electricity Thursday. Some may have no power into the weekend.
In the Texas Panhandle, a utility worker was killed while working to restore power amid strong winds pushed in by the storm. Wind gusts in the area exceeded 80 mph (128.74 kph). And in New Mexico, 36 miners at a nuclear waste repository were trapped underground in an elevator for about three hours because of a power outage caused by the extreme weather.
The storm also contributed to the death of Daniel Groves, a Colorado State Patrol officer who was hit and killed by a car as he helped another driver who had slid off Interstate 76 near Denver.
About 50 National Guard soldiers and airmen used specialized vehicles with tank-like treads to rescue 75 people stranded in their cars during the storm, along with two dogs, according to spokeswoman Elena O’Bryan. The total number of people rescued statewide is likely higher, as local law enforcement ran separate rescue efforts.
The Red Cross reported Thursday that 620 people had stayed in shelters overnight in Colorado and Wyoming.
The window-rattling storm brought blizzards, floods and a tornado across more than 25 states Wednesday, stretching from the northern Rocky Mountains to Texas and beyond.
“This is a very epic cyclone,” said Greg Carbin, chief of forecast operations for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Weather Prediction Center. “We’re looking at something that will go down in the history books.”
The culprit was a sudden and severe drop in ground-level air pressure in Colorado, the most pronounced dive since 1950, Carbin said. It was caused by a combination of the jet stream and normal conditions in the wind shadow of the Rockies.
Air rushed into the low-pressure area and then rose into the atmosphere.
“It’s like a vacuum cleaner, really,” Carbin said. When that much air rushes higher into the atmosphere, it causes severe weather.
Meteorologists call the rapid change in pressure a “bomb cyclone” or “bombogenesis.”
A tornado in New Mexico ripped roofs from buildings in the small town of Dexter, about 200 miles (320 kilometers) southwest of Albuquerque. Authorities said five people were hurt, but none of the injuries was life-threatening. A dairy euthanized about 150 cows injured by the tornado.
High winds knocked 25 railroad freight cars off a bridge into a mostly dry riverbed near Logan in northeast New Mexico. No one was injured, New Mexico State Police said.