MINNEAPOLIS — A potent, slow-moving spring storm system that’s expected to persist through the weekend began raking the Plains and Midwest on Friday, bringing blizzard conditions to South Dakota and threatening states to the east and south with potentially violent weather.
The huge storm, packing enough energy to cause widespread disruption, isn’t unprecedented for April, said Jake Beitlich, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Chanhassen, Minnesota.
“We do get pretty powerful systems coming throughout the Midwest, and on the cold side we do get snow. And this one is particularly strong. So we do have a lot of moisture with it, and a lot of energy,” Beitlich said. “Over the next 24 hours cold air is going to get wrapped into this system and we’re going to see a band of heavy snow develop from southwestern Minnesota through northern Wisconsin. Also we’re going to have really strong winds, especially in western Minnesota.”
Blizzard warnings stretched from northern Kansas across most of Nebraska and South Dakota into southwestern Minnesota and northeastern Iowa, with winter storm warnings and watches covering most of the rest of Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan. Heavy snow already blanketed parts of western Kansas, Nebraska and South Dakota by early afternoon Friday, closing several roads in western Nebraska — including a 100-mile stretch of cross-country thoroughfare Interstate 80 from Big Springs west to the Wyoming border.
Snow, freezing rain and high winds were expected through Saturday night, with heavy ice accumulations in parts of Michigan through Sunday morning.
A swath of southern Minnesota including Minneapolis though northern Wisconsin was expected to get 8 to 12 inches of snow or more. Parts of Nebraska could get up to 14 inches, with up to 10 inches in Iowa. Wind gusts of up to 50 mph will make travel hazardous.
The National Weather Service’s Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Oklahoma, forecast severe thunderstorms Friday over parts of eastern Texas and western Louisiana, moving up through Arkansas into Missouri and Iowa. The weather service also warned of the potential for tornadoes, large hail and damaging winds for Arkansas, Oklahoma, Louisiana and eastern portions of Texas.
Forecasters said Alabama was also at risk for a weekend of severe weather, with the National Weather Service predicting storms beginning over north Alabama early Saturday will create a threat of winds up to 60 mph and tornadoes through Sunday.
The Storm Prediction Center said there’s an enhanced risk of bad weather in an area that includes Birmingham, Huntsville and Mobile, and that Montgomery is on the fringe of the risk area.
Severe thunderstorms also popped up to the north Friday morning in parts of Wisconsin, Minnesota and South Dakota. Golf ball-sized hail fell Friday morning in parts of southwestern Wisconsin, covering the ground like snow in Richland Center and Gays Mills. Large hail also fell in Parker in southeastern South Dakota while pea-sized hail fell in nearby Sioux Falls.
“That that just kind of again speaks to how strong the system is, where you’re going to get a lot of snow on the cold side, and severe thunderstorms in the warm part of the storm,” Beitlich said.
In South Dakota, where a blizzard warning covered much of the state, authorities issued no-travel advisories for many highways and closed much of Interstate 90 in the western half of the state. Gov. Dennis Daugaard closed state government offices in 32 counties ahead the approaching blizzard. Dozens of school districts canceled classes ahead of snow accumulation expected to reach 12 to 16 inches. Rapid City had already received 5.5 inches by 10 a.m.
Dangerous fire weather conditions in Oklahoma contributed to wildfires that forced hundreds of people to evacuate their homes near Woodward, about 125 miles northeast of Oklahoma City. Emergency crews in western Texas were also battling wildfires amid forecasts of extreme fire danger.