Massive U.S. storm brings tornadoes to South, blizzard threat

Wrightwood residents Nick and Christine Hoban enjoy a walk together as heavy snow falls on Highway 2 near Wrightwood, Calif., on Monday, Dec. 12, 2022. (Will Lester/The Orange County Register via AP)
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Associated Press

DALLAS (AP) — A massive storm blowing across the country spawned tornadoes that wrecked homes and injured a handful of people in parts of Oklahoma and Texas, including the Dallas-Fort Worth area, as much of the central United States from the Rocky Mountains to the Midwest braced Tuesday for blizzard-like conditions.

An area stretching from Montana into western Nebraska and Colorado was under blizzard warnings, and the National Weather Service said that as much as 2 feet (61 centimeters) of snow was possible in some areas of western South Dakota and northwestern Nebraska. Ice and sleet were expected in the eastern Great Plains.

In the south, a line of thunderstorms that moved across North Texas and Oklahoma in the early morning hours brought tornadoes, damaging winds, hail and heavy rain, said National Weather Service meteorologist Tom Bradshaw. Authorities on Tuesday reported dozens of damaged homes and businesses and several people injured.

In the Fort Worth suburbs, photos sent by the North Richland Hills police department, showed a home without a roof, a tree that had been split in half and an overturned vehicle in a parking lot. About 20 homes and businesses were damaged in the storm, the police said.

In nearby Grapevine, police spokesperson Amanda McNew said there have been five confirmed injuries, yet no fatalities and no life-threatening injuries, from the storms.

“So the main thing is that we’ve got everyone in a safe place,” McNew said just after noon. “And so now we’re starting the process of going through the city looking at damage to property, to businesses, homes and then roads to see what needs to be closed, what we can open and how soon we can open them.”

Near Decatur, about 70 miles (113 kilometers) northwest of Dallas, the Wise County Office of Emergency Management said one person was injured from flying debris while traveling in their vehicle and the other was injured when their vehicle overturned due to high winds. One person was taken to the hospital and the other was treated at the scene.

Meanwhile, a tornado damaged the Oklahoma town of Wayne shortly after 5 a.m. Tuesday. There were no deaths or injuries due to the tornado, McClain County Sheriff’s Capt. Bryan Murrell said. But as authorities began assessing its impact Tuesday morning, it was clear there was widespread damage to Wayne, which is about 45 miles (72 kilometers) south of Oklahoma City.

“We’ve got multiple family structures with significant damage … barns, power lines down” in and around the town, Murrell said.

National Weather Service meteorologist Doug Speheger said wind speeds reached 111-135 mph (179-211 kph) and the tornado was rated EF-2. It was likely on the ground for about two to four minutes, according to the weather service.

In parts of Iowa, Minnesota and South Dakota, the National Weather Service warned that up to about half an inch (2.5 centimeters) of ice could form and winds could gust up to 45 mph (72 kph). Power outages, tree damage, falling branches and hazardous travel conditions all threatened the region.

All of western Nebraska was under a blizzard warning from Tuesday through Thursday, and the National Weather Services said up to 20 inches (51 centimeters) of snow was expected in the northwest. Winds of more than 50 mph (80 kph) at times will make it impossible to see outdoors, officials said.

The Nebraska Department of Transportation closed stretches of Interstate 80 and Interstate 76 as heavy snow and high winds made travel dangerous. The Nebraska State Patrol, which was called to deal with several crashes and jackknifed semitrailers overnight, urged people to stay off the roads.

“There’s essentially no one traveling right now,” said Justin McCallum, a manager at the Flying J truck stop at Ogallala, Nebraska. He said he got to work before the roads were closed, but likely won’t be able to get back home Tuesday. “I can see to the first poles outside the doors, but I can’t see the rest of the lot right outside. I’ll probably just get a motel room here tonight.”

In Colorado, all roads were closed in the northeast quadrant of the state. And a 260-mile (418-kilometer) stretch of Interstate 90 across western South Dakota was closed Tuesday morning due to “freezing rain, heavy snow, and high winds,” the state’s Department of Transportation said. Interstate 29 was also expected to close and secondary highways will likely become “impassable,” the department said.

Xcel Energy, one of the region’s largest electric providers, had boosted staff in anticipation of power outages. A middle school in Sioux Falls lost power Tuesday morning and sent students home early. Power outages affecting about 1,700 customers in the eastern part of the state were reported by utility providers Tuesday.

In southern Minnesota, winds gusting up to 50 mph (80 kph) had reduced visibility and in the Twin Cities metro area, sleet and gravel mixed with rain on the roads.

National Weather Service meteorologist Melissa Dye in the Twin Cities said this is a “long duration event” with snow, ice and rain expected to last at least through Friday night. Minnesota was expecting a lull Wednesday, followed by a second round of snow.

Wet roadways are just as dangerous when temperatures hover around freezing, Dye said.

The storm system was expected to move into the Northeast and central Appalachians with snow and freezing rain by late Wednesday, forecasters said. The severe weather threat also continues into Wednesday for Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and the Florida Panhandle, according to the Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Oklahoma.

The weather is part of the same system that dumped heavy snow in the Sierra Nevada and western U.S. in recent days.

The northern Rocky Mountains are predicted to get over a foot of snowfall, a boon to ski resorts that dot the range. But in Utah, search and rescue crews on Tuesday located the body of a skier who had gone missing at Solitude Mountain Resort a day earlier as snow continued to blanket Utah and the state’s ski resorts throughout the Wasatch Range.

Salt Lake County law enforcement told KSL-TV the skier, a 37-year-old man, had been found dead Tuesday morning. The skier, who they did not name, was last seen on a chairlift in the afternoon and reported missing around 7 p.m.