PIERRE, S.D. -- In the span of 24 hours, the scenic Black Hills in South Dakota were coated in up to three and a half feet of wet, heavy snow, one of several Great Plains states walloped by a storm system that’s caused millions of dollars in damage.
Wind gusts of up to 70 mph were recorded in the Black Hills, National Weather Service meteorologist Katie Pojorlie said Saturday morning, but the snow was expected to end later Saturday, giving people a chance to start digging out from the unusual early fall snowstorm that set records.
But wintry weather wasn’t the only thing wrapped into the powerful cold front, as thunderstorms brought heavy rain, hail and 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 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.
Pojorlie said the historic mining city of Lead, S.D., in the northern Black Hills had received 43 ½ inches of snow by 7:30 p.m. Friday and more had fallen overnight. Rapid City had 21 inches, but 31 inches was recorded just a mile southwest of the city.
The wet, heavy snow was more like a typical spring storm, she said. Though the Dakotas have mostly recovered from last year’s drought, the rain and snow will help ease conditions that have remained fairly dry.
“Normally, we get some snow events here in October that give people a little bit of a chance to learn how to drive in snow again. This year, we got started with a blizzard.”
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.
“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.”
I-90 was still closed in the western part of the state on Saturday morning, and officials advised against travel on other roads in the area.
In southwest North Dakota, about 10 inches of snow fell Friday, National Weather Service meteorologist Adam Jones said from Bismarck.
“There might have been some isolated areas that got 12 inches,” he said.
The snow was expected to stop later Saturday in western South Dakota, and as the cold front pushed east, accumulations would decrease, Pojorlie said.
Meanwhile, meteorologists with the National Weather Service said they were still trying to figure out exactly how many tornadoes touched down Friday evening. Some of the most severe tornado damage was in Wayne, Neb., where at least 10 buildings were destroyed and five were heavily damaged in the town of 9,600, the Omaha World-Herald reported. Ten homes near the town were also damaged.
Mayor Ken Chamberlain said at least 15 people were injured, with one person in critical condition. He 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.
The cold front is moving slowly east and expanding south and will meet up with the remnants of Tropical Storm Karen. 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.
Associated Press writers Grant Schulte in Lincoln, Neb., Seth Borenstein in Washington, D.C., James MacPherson in Bismarck, N.D., and Dirk Lammers in Sioux Falls, S.D., contributed to this report.