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Great Plains digs out of heavy snow, storm debris

October 5, 2013

PIERRE, South Dakota (AP) — A storm system broke nearly century-old early autumn snowfall records, smothering South Dakota’s scenic Black Hills with up to three and a half feet (1.1 meters) of wet, heavy snow .

But wintry weather wasn’t the only thing wrapped into the powerful cold front that crossed the Great Plains, as unusually strong thunderstorms brought heavy rain, hail and as many as nine tornadoes to Nebraska and Iowa. Fifteen people in northeast Nebraska were injured in a tornado Friday, and three died in a car accident on a snow-slicked Nebraska road.

Forecasters said the front would eventually combine with other storms to make for a wild — and probably very wet — weekend for much of the central U.S. and Southeast.

Power outages and impassable roads plagued western South Dakota on Saturday. More than 25,000 people had lost power in the Black Hills area, and authorities were recruiting snowmobilers to help rescue about 80 motorists who’d been stuck overnight.

Pennington County Emergency Management spokeswoman Alexa White said rescue efforts were slow-going, because “the only way to get there is the snowmobiles or the Sno-Cats.”

“The plows have gotten stuck in the roads,” she said.

Also stuck were four employees of the National Weather Service’s Rapid City office. They’d been there since Friday, meteorologist David Carpenter said Saturday.

“There is a 3-foot (90-centimeter) drift across the parking lot and no one has had the energy to shovel it out yet,” he said.

Friday’s snowfall — 19 inches (48 centimeters) — broke the previous one-day snowfall record for October by about nine inches (23 centimeters); it was set on Oct. 19, 1919, Carpenter said. Rapid City saw an extra 2.5 inches (6.4 centimeters) overnight. Friday also surpassed the record for the entire month, 15.1 inches (38.4 centimeters), also set in 1919.

National Weather Service meteorologist Katie Pojorlie said the historic mining city of Lead, South Dakota, in the northern Black Hills had received 43 ½ inches (110.5 centimeters) of snow by 7:30 p.m. Friday and more had fallen overnight.

That’s not unheard of in the area, according to Donna Heaton, manager of the Terry Peak Lodge.

“Last year in April, we got over 50 inches (127 centimeters) after the ski area closed. It would be nice to help the local economy if all the snow would fall when the ski area and the snowmobile trails were open,” she told AP radio.

Interstate 90 was still closed in the western part of South Dakota on Saturday, and officials advised against travel elsewhere as white-out conditions kept snowplows from making much progress on roads until at least late in the day.

Meanwhile, National Weather Service meteorologist Mike Fuhs said as many as nine tornadoes touched down in Iowa and Nebraska between 6 p.m. and 7:45 p.m. Friday. He called some of them “quite powerful,” and noted it was unusual to see so many and with such power during the fall.

Some of the most severe tornado damage was in Wayne, Nebraska, where at least 10 buildings were destroyed and five were heavily damaged, the Omaha World-Herald reported. Mayor Ken Chamberlain said at least 15 people were injured, with one person in critical condition.

In northwest Iowa, nearly two dozen farmsteads were destroyed and 60 damaged, said Woodbury County Emergency Director Gary Brown. He said the storms cut a 35-mile (56-kilometer)-long path through the county, but there was only one report of a minor injury.

Update hourly