Blizzard warnings were posted from Colorado to Minnesota on Wednesday and wildfires were a concern in New Mexico, Texas and Oklahoma as the second so-called “bomb cyclone” storm in less than a month hit the central U.S., raising the prospect of renewed flooding in the already drenched Midwest.
Up to 2 ½ feet (0.61 meters) of snow was expected to fall in parts of eastern South Dakota and southwestern Minnesota, the National Weather Service said. Winds in excess of 50 mph (80.46 kph) also were expected, creating life-threatening conditions.
“We’re calling it historic because of the widespread heavy snow. We will set some records,” said Mike Connelly, a weather service meteorologist in Aberdeen, South Dakota.
Snow was already falling at a rate of up to 2 inches (5.08 centimeters) per hour in northeastern South Dakota and southwestern Minnesota on Wednesday, with the brunt of the storm not expected until Thursday. Sheriff’s offices in the northeastern South Dakota counties of Hamlin and Deuel advised no travel through Thursday, saying visibility was down to a few feet, roads were becoming impassable and numerous traffic crashes had been reported. There were no immediate reports of serious injuries.
An unusual but not rare weather phenomenon known as “thunder snow” — snow accompanied by thunder and lightning — was reported in central South Dakota.
“It’s essentially a thunderstorm, but it’s cold enough for snow,” Connelly said.
South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem closed state government offices in 52 counties. Numerous schools around the state closed, along with several Black Hills National Forest offices in western South Dakota and eastern Wyoming. Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz said “the National Guard stands ready” to rescue any stranded motorists.
The weather service posted an ice storm warning into Friday morning for a portion of southern Minnesota, saying up to three-fourths of an inch of ice could accumulate on power lines, leading to outages.
To the west, the looming spring blizzard in the Rockies was impacting everything from flights to school classes to baseball.
About 40 percent of Denver International Airport’s daily flights Wednesday were scratched. Major League Baseball’s Colorado Rockies postponed an afternoon game against the Atlanta Braves until August. A few school districts in Colorado and Wyoming canceled classes, while others opted for a shortened day and canceled evening activities.
Strong winds associated with the weather system were creating dangerous wildfire and travel conditions in New Mexico, Texas and Oklahoma. The weather service issued a high wind warning for the Texas and Oklahoma panhandles.
Winds in excess of 50 mph (80.46 kph) were combining with low humidity and an unstable atmosphere to create critical fire conditions in the three states. Forecasters in New Mexico said the winds also would make travel difficult on north-south oriented roads such as Interstate 25. In southern New Mexico, the U.S. Army’s White Sands Missile Range closed Wednesday because of the high winds.
The storm technically met the scientific definition of what’s commonly known as a “bomb cyclone,” said David Roth, a forecaster at the National Weather Service’s Weather Prediction Center in Maryland.
The weather phenomenon with a complex scientific definition essentially entails a rapid drop in air pressure and a storm strengthening explosively. What is more important than the term is the storm’s impacts, which are likely to be similar to last month’s storm , Roth said.
“Hopefully this time it will be a slow snowmelt,” Roth said.
Forecasters said this week’s storm will swell rivers again, though likely not to the levels seen last month due to the absence of a wet snowpack on frozen ground this time around.
“We’re not out of the woods,” Walz said.
Even moderate rises in the Missouri River will push more water into drenched Fremont County in southwestern Iowa, Emergency Manager Mike Crecelius said. Last month’s flooding swamped 455 houses and thousands of acres of farmland in his region.
“The problem is that we’re not getting any time for the water to recede and things to dry out, so the levees can’t be fixed; houses can’t be fixed; crops can’t be planted,” he said. “And the last spring forecast I saw does not look favorable for us at all. It looks to be a very wet spring.”