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Snowstorm on Northern Plains, Thunderstorms to the South

March 25, 1996

A snowstorm blew across the northern Plains on Sunday, closing highways with drifts and stranding travelers, while thunderstorms stretched across the central Plains.

The heaviest snow extended from the Nebraska Panhandle across eastern South Dakota into eastern North Dakota. Two separate accidents on a seven-mile stretch of Interstate 80 killed four people in western Nebraska.

Snowfall totals from Saturday into Sunday afternoon included 12.1 inches at Bismarck, N.D., and 8.5 inches at Fargo, N.D. About 6 inches had fallen at Chadron, Neb.

The brunt of the storm hit Wyoming on Saturday, and by Sunday morning the state had 22 inches of fresh snow at Pinedale and 14 at Lander.

The snow closed 338 miles of westbound lanes of I-80 from York, Neb., to the Wyoming state line.

``The visibility is down to zero,″ said Roger Klasna, the local roads maintenance supervisor in North Platte, Neb. ``It’s not the amount of snowfall, but the wind.″

Blowing, drifting snow in North Dakota closed a 290-mile section of Interstate 94 and a 65-mile stretch of I-29, as well as many secondary roads. A 300-mile section of I-90, which was most of the road, was closed in South Dakota.

About 25 travelers were stranded at St. Pius Catholic Church in New Salem, N.D., along I-94 some 30 miles west of Bismarck, and town residents supplied them with food and videos.

``You meet people and make new friends. It’s kind of a nice thing,″ said Sandy Del Rio, 50, of St. Adolphe, Manitoba. ``We’d like to be traveling, but there’s a silver lining everywhere.″

Interstates 25 and 80 in Wyoming were reopened Sunday after snow began tapering off there, but roads remained hazardous.

``We were just swamped with people trying to go west,″ said Mike Davis of the Burns Brothers truck stop on Interstate 80 east of Cheyenne, Wyo. ``Our lots were full, the roads were full, the on-ramps and exit ramps were full. There was no place else to go.″

The snow on the northern Plains was expected to spread eastward through the Dakotas and northern Minnesota, reaching Wisconsin and possibly Michigan during the night.

The snow fell in the cold air circulating around a low pressure area centered over Nebraska. The return flow around the eastern side of the low pulled moist southerly air into the central Plains.

Wind gusts above 50 mph were common from northeastern Texas to Nebraska.

A line of strong to severe thunderstorms extended from near Fort Worth, Texas, through the area of Topeka, Kan., with hail in places the diameter of quarters.

Strong thunderstorms were possible in Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, Missouri, Arkansas and Missouri.

Sunday’s temperatures around the Lower 48 states ranged from a morning low of 9 below zero at Great Falls, Mont., to an early afternoon reading of 87 at McAllen, Texas. The lowest wind chill was 46 below zero at Minot, N.D.

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