Created on Saturday, 05 October 2013 Written by DIRK LAMMERS, Associated Press
SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) — The storm system that covered parts of Wyoming and South Dakota in heavy, wet snow also brought powerful thunderstorms and tornadoes to the Great Plains, causing millions of dollars in damage.
The storm dumped at least 33 inches of snow in a part of South Dakota's scenic Black Hills, National Weather Service meteorologist Eric Helgeson said Friday afternoon. Thunderstorms rolled across the Plains later in the day, with witnesses reporting tornadoes in Nebraska, Iowa and South Dakota.
No one died in the tornadoes, reports said, but snow was blamed in the deaths of three people who were killed in a traffic accident on U.S. 20 in northeast Nebraska.
Forecasters said the cold 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.
Wayne, Neb., saw some of the greatest damage from tornadoes where at least four homes were destroyed in the town of 9,600.
Mayor Ken Chamberlain said at least 15 people were injured, but none was life-threatening and seven stemmed from two separate car accidents. Chamberlain said all of the residents in the northeast Nebraska town were accounted for, but the storm caused millions of dollars in damage to an area that includes businesses and the city's softball complex.
In northwest Iowa, a mile-wide tornado touched down near the town of Cherokee, cutting a 2- to 3-mile path through farmland but missing any population centers, the state Department of Homeland Security said.
Meteorologists with the National Weather Service said they were still trying to figure out exactly how many tornadoes touched down Friday evening.
Snow postponed the annual Octoberfest in Deadwood, S.D., including Friday night's dancing-and-singing pub crawl and Saturday's Wiener Dog Races and Beer Barrel Games.
Julie Lee said she and fellow members of the White Rose Band had barely unloaded their instruments in the Old West casino town before the heavy snow started falling and closed part of Interstate 90, the area's only interstate. The interstate was closed from the Wyoming border to Murdo by Friday night.
"Our car is like an igloo," said Lee, who sings and plays the clarinet and saxophone for her North Dakota-based polka band. "I'm glad we got everything out."
Officials were warning drivers to stay off the roads in the Black Hills and in eastern Wyoming, where reports of 5 to 10 inches of snow were common. Forecasters urged travelers to carry survival kits and to stay in their vehicles if stranded. The storm system also blanketed Colorado's northern mountains with snow.
"I've lived in Wyoming my whole life and I've never seen it like this this early," Patricia Whitman, shift manager at the Flying J truck stop in Gillette, said in a telephone interview. She said her truck stop's parking lot was full of travelers waiting out the storm.
Although early October snowfalls aren't unusual for the region, a storm of such magnitude happens only once every decade or two on the Plains, National Weather Service meteorologist Steve Trimarchi said.
"I couldn't say when the last time we've had one like this. It's been quite a while," Trimarchi said.
The cold front is moving slowly east and expanding south and will meet up with the remnants of Tropical Storm Karen on Saturday or Sunday once that storm makes landfall along the Gulf Coast.
Though much of the Midwest and Southeast may get soaked, it won't be as devastating as past combination storms, such as Superstorm Sandy, said William Bunting, operations chief at the Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Okla.
The Midwest — especially Kansas, Nebraska and Iowa — will see the highest risk for large thunderstorms, tornadoes and hail, "perhaps baseball-sized," Bunting said.
Associated Press writers Grant Schulte in Lincoln, Neb., Seth Borenstein in Washington, D.C., Chet Brokaw in Pierre, S.D., Steve Paulson in Denver and Bob Moen in Cheyenne, Wyo., contributed to this report.