WINTER AT ITS WORST
Air pressure drop causes severe wind gusts, several inches of snow, rain
Slabs of Platte River ice flooded onto property in Nebraska as blizzard conditions barreled eastward from the Rocky Mountains. A historic bomb cyclone with wind gusts of up to 100 mph along with heavy rain and snow affected more than 105 million people.
A history-making “bomb cyclone” on Thursday blasted communities near the Rockies with snow and drenched the Midwest with rain, causing one death, as forecasters predicted flooding will spread throughout the region over the weekend.
Thousands of people in Nebraska and in at least one town in Iowa were forced to evacuate to escape blizzard conditions and flooding caused by the massive, late-winter storm. Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds declared a state of emergency. In Colorado, State Police Cpl. Daniel Groves was hit and killed by a car as he was helping a motorist stranded on an interstate.
“It is a tragic reminder that people’s lives are at stake. The best place to be is at home and off the roads,” said Shoshana Lew, director of the Colorado Department of Transportation.
As the storm barreled eastward from the Rockies, where it had triggered widespread power outages, it dumped record-setting rainfall across parts of the Midwest, including eastern South Dakota and northwestern Iowa. Airlines canceled hundreds of flights, and emergency crews worked to clear roads obscured by up to 4 feet of blinding snow.
More than 105 million people were affected by the storm system, the National Weather Service said Thursday.
The storm gained “bomb cyclogenesis” or “bombogenesis” status after its air pressure dropped precipitously within 24 hours, causing wind gusts of nearly 100 mph while simultaneously dropping several inches of snow and rain, said Paul Huttner, chief meteorologist for Minnesota Public Radio. He noted that this week’s bomb cyclone was the latest of 10 severe storms to have pounded the Midwest in the past six weeks — an average of one every four days.
Greg Carbin, chief of forecast operations for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Weather Prediction Center, called it “a very epic cyclone” — one that “will go down in the history books.”
Mr. Carbin said the cyclone’s rapidly steep drop in ground-level air pressure was the most pronounced decline recorded since 1950. It occurred over Colorado, where wind gusts of 97 mph were clocked. National Guard troops there had to rely on specialized vehicles with tanklike treads to rescue stranded drivers, while in Nebraska whiteout conditions hampered evacuations.
On Thursday, Wyoming, North and South Dakota, and Minnesota endured blizzard conditions that included heavy rain in some places. South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem closed all state offices, and the Red Cross opened shelters in Sioux Falls and Yankton in the eastern part of the state.
The system was moving out of the central Plains on Thursday, but National Weather Service meteorologist Peter Rogers said flooding is likely to persist into the weekend in parts of South Dakota, Minnesota and Iowa, with deeply frozen ground preventing rain and snowmelt from soaking into the soil.
Meanwhile, tornado watches were issued in Arkansas, Mississippi and Tennessee. A tornado touched down in Kentucky, leaving some damage and one person injured, according to officials.
A tornado in New Mexico sheared roofs off buildings in the small town of Dexter, about 200 miles southwest of Albuquerque. Authorities reported five people were hurt.
Near Logan in northeast New Mexico, high winds knocked 25 freight cars off a railroad bridge into a mostly dry riverbed. New Mexico State Police reported no injuries.
A man clears snow drifts with a bulldozer Thursday in Limon, Colorado. A sudden drop in barometric pressure crippled the area with heavy snow and high winds.
John Hunt looks at the huge tree in his yard on Thursday, in Colorado Springs, Colorado, after it fell during the “Bomb Cyclone” that hit communities near the Rockies on Wednesday. More than 105 million people were affected by the storm.