October 5, 2013 2:38 pm

Snow storm hits South Dakota, 15 hurt in Nebraska tornado

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 (1.1 metres)of wet, heavy snow, one of several Great Plains states walloped by a storm system that’s caused millions of dollars in damage.

National Weather Service meteorologist Katie Pojorlie said the snow was expected to end later Saturday, giving people a chance to start digging out from the unusual, record-setting early fall snowstorm.

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But wintry weather wasn’t the only thing wrapped into the powerful cold front, as 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 lost power in the Rapid City area, and authorities were recruiting snowmobilers to help rescue about 80 motorists who’d been stuck in their vehicles overnight.

Pennington County Emergency Management spokeswoman Alexa White said the stranded motorists turned on their cars at times during the night to stay warm. The rescue efforts, she said, 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-centimetre) 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 centimetres) – broke the previous one-day snowfall record for October by about nine inches (23 centimetres); it was set on Oct. 19, 1919, Carpenter said. Friday also surpassed the record for the entire month, 15.1 inches (38.4 centimetres), also set in 1919.

Pojorlie said the historic mining city of Lead, South Dakota, in the northern Black Hills had received 43 1/2 inches (110.5 centimetres) of snow by 7:30 p.m. Friday and more had fallen overnight.

Meanwhile, National Weather Service meteorologist Mike Fuhs said crews were assessing damage in Iowa and Nebraska after as many as nine tornadoes touched down Friday evening.

Some of the most severe tornado damage was in Wayne, Nebraska, 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 the storm caused millions of dollars in damage to an area that includes businesses and the city’s softball complex.

© The Canadian Press, 2013

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