Storm brings snow, tornadoes to Great Plains

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. – A storm system that buried parts of Wyoming and South Dakota in heavy, wet snow on Friday also brought powerful thunderstorms packing tornadoes to the Great Plains.

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. Later in the day, thunderstorms rolled across the Plains, and witnesses reported seeing tornadoes in Nebraska, Iowa and South Dakota. There were no reports of deaths from any of the tornadoes.

Witnesses reported seeing a 2-mile-wide tornado that destroyed at least four homes and damages several businesses in the northeast Nebraska town of Wayne Friday evening. Mayor Ken Chamberlain said all of the residents in town had been accounted for. At least 15 people were hurt, but none of the injuries were considered life-threatening, Chamberlain said.

The National Weather Service said witnesses also reported at least two tornadoes near Sioux City, Iowa, causing some damage in Jefferson, S.D., and Moville, Iowa.

Earlier in the day, snow was blamed for the deaths of three people who were killed in a traffic accident on snow-slicked 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.

Julie Lee said she and fellow members of her White Rose Band were accustomed to snow, just “not for the fourth of October.” They had barely unloaded their instruments in South Dakota’s Old West casino town of Deadwood before the wet, 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.”

The snow prompted Deadwood officials to postpone their annual Octoberfest, including Friday night’s dancing-and-singing pub crawl and Saturday’s Wiener Dog Races and Beer Barrel Games. But Lee said she and her accordion-playing husband, who had planned to set up in a casino bar, would entertain stranded guests because “you can only gamble for so long.”

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.

“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.

“I know several of the businesses nearby are completely closed because they can’t even get workers into work – it’s pretty nasty,” she said.