Intense fall storm hits Midwest

Dumps heavy snow in western South Dakota, spawns tornado in Nebraska


SIOUX FALLS, S.D.  — Powerful storms crawled into the Midwest today, dumping heavy snow in South Dakota, spawning a tornado in Nebraska and threatening dangerous thunderstorms from Oklahoma to Wisconsin.

A foot of snow had fallen in western South Dakota’s scenic Black Hills by early today, bringing blizzard conditions that shuttered roadways and even canceled a polka bar crawl in an Old West tourist town. Residents were bracing for as much as 3 feet of snow, along with wind gusts of up to 70 mph, from an unseasonably intense fall snow storm.

The typically bustling Pilot Travel Center just west of Rapid City was like a ghost town early today, as drivers were likely heeding forecasters’ warnings to stay off the roads, said store general manager John Barton.

The blowing snow was picking up outside the truck stop along Interstate 90, which was closed for about 30 miles thanks to a storm gaining strength as it moved in from Colorado and Wyoming. Conditions were expected to deteriorate throughout the day.

“Yesterday we were really busy,” Barton said. “I think a lot of people got ahead of it.”

Although early October snowfalls aren’t unusual, a storm of this magnitude happens only once every decade or two on the plains, National Weather Service meteorologist Steve Trimarchi said.

“I couldn’t say when the last time we’ve had one like this. It’s been quite a while,” Trimarchi said.

The storm canceled today's Oktoberfest events in Deadwood, where residents and tourists had been planning to polka their way through a bar tour of the gambling town. Organizers also postponed Saturday’s planned Wiener Dog Races and Beer Barrel Games until next weekend, said Deadwood Chamber of Commerce director George Milos.

“Even if the snow stops falling, there’d still be so much to clean up,” Milos said, noting that weather hasn’t canceled a fall event in about 14 years. “We had a concert on Main Street and got 5 feet of snow,” he recalled.

Large hail and powerful winds were forecast to hit northwest Oklahoma later today, while heavy rain settled in parts of Iowa and was expected to swoop northeast across the region into Wisconsin, where warnings were issued for dense fog.

In Nebraska, a tornado that touched down Thursday night damaged homes and businesses in several communities, knocked out power and toppled trees. But no injuries have been reported.

Motorists were being advised to stay off the roads in western South Dakota, where the I-90 were closed between Sturgis and the Wyoming border. Officials said the road will remain closed until storm conditions improve and crews are able to clear the highway.

The Department of Transportation also advised no travel on some other roadways in the region.

Blizzard warnings were also in effect in Wyoming, where up to 15 inches of snow and strong winds were expected to cause whiteout conditions. Forecasters urged people trying to travel to carry survival kits and to stay in their vehicles if they get stranded.

“These are just really dangerous conditions,” Steve Rubin, of the National Weather Service, said today.

Snow also was still falling across northern Colorado early today, though no major problems were being reported. Forecasters expect snow to be the heaviest in the higher mountains, while the Denver metropolitan area was reporting rain turning into snow.