OMAHA, Neb.—A blizzard that paralyzed parts of Colorado and Wyoming barreled into the Midwest on Thursday, bringing whiteout conditions to western Nebraska and dumping heavy rain that prompted evacuations in communities farther east.
Emergency crews responded after a vehicle was swept off a road in Norfolk, Nebraska, and rising water along the Elkhorn River prompted evacuations in the city of 24,000 people. The missing individual had not been found by midday Thursday.
Evacuations also occurred in several other eastern Nebraska communities and at least one Iowa town. Cara Jamison and her neighbors had to leave their homes in Fremont, Nebraska, after water and ice chunks from a flooding Platte River blocked their street. She and her husband moved photo albums to the second floor of their home.
"Photos are the important things," she said. "Furniture can be replaced."
South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem closed all state offices Thursday as the blizzard conditions moved in, and later in the day ordered the opening of the state's Emergency Operations Center to handle the response to the blizzard and flooding. The state was preparing an emergency declaration, Noem said. The Red Cross opened shelters in Sioux Falls and Yankton.
Wind, blowing snow and snow-packed roadways also made travel treacherous in western Nebraska.
Heavy rain caused flooding in eastern parts of South Dakota and Nebraska, as well as in Iowa, where all or part of nine state parks were closed due to rising flood waters. Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds signed an emergency disaster proclamation Thursday and activated the state emergency operations center.
Several cities in the region have been hit by rain this week, with records set Wednesday in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, and Sioux City, Iowa.
"We've got a lot of water, and it's got to find a way to get out of here," said Tracy West, mayor of Lennox, South Dakota.
The system was moving out of the central Plains on Thursday, but National Weather Service meteorologist Peter Rogers said flooding is likely to persist into the weekend in parts of South Dakota, Minnesota and Iowa, with deeply frozen ground preventing rain and snowmelt from soaking into the soil.
The massive late-winter storm hit Colorado on Wednesday, causing widespread power outages, forcing the cancellation of hundreds of flights and wreaking havoc on roadways. A wind gust clocked in at 97 mph in Colorado Springs.
In the Texas Panhandle, a utility worker was killed while working to restore power amid strong winds pushed in by the storm. And in New Mexico, 36 miners at a nuclear waste repository were trapped underground in an elevator for about three hours because of a power outage caused by the extreme weather. Outages also were reported from North Dakota to Nebraska.
The window-rattling storm brought blizzards, floods and a tornado across more than 25 states Wednesday, stretching from the northern Rocky Mountains to Texas and beyond.
The culprit was a sudden and severe drop in ground-level air pressure in Colorado, the most pronounced dive since 1950 and something "that will go down in the history books," said Greg Carbin, chief of forecast operations for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Weather Prediction Center.
It was caused by a combination of the jet stream and normal conditions in the wind shadow of the Rockies. Air rushed into the low-pressure area and then rose into the atmosphere, causing severe weather.