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US storm brings tornado warnings, blizzard threat

SIOUX FALLS (AP) – Much of the central United States (US) from the Rocky Mountains to the Midwest braced for blizzard-like conditions, while states farther to the south saw tornado warnings from a massive storm blowing across the country.

An area stretching from Montana into western Nebraska and Colorado was under blizzard warnings, and the National Weather Service said that as much as 61 centimetres (cm) of snow was possible in some areas of western South Dakota and northwestern Nebraska. Meanwhile, ice and sleet were expected in the eastern Great Plains.

The National Weather Service warned that up to about 2.5cm of ice could form and winds could gust up to 72 kilometres per hour (kph) in parts of Iowa, Minnesota and South Dakota. Power outages, tree damage, falling branches and hazardous travel conditions all threatened the region.

“This is a ‘we are not kidding’ kind of storm,” the South Dakota Department of Public Safety said on Monday in a tweet urging people to stock up on essentials, then stay home once the storm hits.

Portions of Interstate 90 and Interstate 29 through South Dakota were closed yesterday due to “freezing rain, substantial snow totals, low visibility, drifting snow and high winds”, the state’s Department of Transportation said. Secondary highways will likely become “impassable”, it said.

California Highway Patrol officer Mike Eshleman talks to a driver. PHOTO: AP

Farther south, tornadoes, strong winds, hail and flash flooding were expected with eastern Texas, much of Louisiana and western Mississippi at greatest risk for severe storms.

Yesterday, tornado warnings were issued in parts of central Oklahoma and north Texas.

Damage was reported in the Oklahoma town of Wayne after the weather service warned of a “confirmed tornado”. Video footage from Oklahoma TV station KOCO showed substantial damage to a home in Wayne, which is about 72 kilometres south of Oklahoma City.

The severe weather threat continues today for Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and the Florida Panhandle, according to the Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Oklahoma.

“It will be a busy week while this system moves across the country,” said weather service’s headquarters in College Park meteorologist Marc Chenard.

The weather is part of the same system that dumped heavy snow in the Sierra Nevada over the weekend before moving east.

In northern Utah, a tour bus crashed on Monday morning as snow and frigid temperatures blanketed the region. The bus flipped onto its side in Tremonton after the driver lost control while switching lanes, the state’s Highway Patrol said in a statement.

The Highway Patrol said 23 passengers were injured, including some seriously. Thousands of students from Native American communities across Wyoming, Nebraska and the Dakotas were travelling to Rapid City, South Dakota, for this week’s Lakota Nation Invitational, a high school athletic event.

Brian Brewer, one of the organisers, said he had urged schools and participants to travel early. “We told them with this storm coming – if you leave tomorrow, there’s a good chance you might not make it,” he said on Monday.

In Northern California, most mountain highways had re-opened on Monday. Remaining warnings in the Southern California mountains expired on Monday night, the weather service said. With winter still more than a week away, it was the latest fall storm to bring significant precipitation to California, which is dealing with the impacts of years of drought that have spurred calls for water conservation.

The UC Berkeley Central Sierra Snow Lab northwest of Lake Tahoe reported that the storm dropped 138.5cm of snow.

The Sierra snowpack, which on average is at its peak on April 1, is normally a significant source of water when it melts in the spring. Throughout the drought experts have cautioned about optimism over early season storms as climate change makes what were once average conditions rare.

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