Heavy snow, thunderstorms moving into Midwest

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) - Powerful storms crawled into the Midwest on Friday, dumping heavy snow in South Dakota, spawning a tornado in Nebraska and threatening dangerous thunderstorms from Oklahoma to Wisconsin.

A foot of snow had fallen in western South Dakota's scenic Black Hills by early Friday, thanks to a storm gaining strength as it slowly moves east from Colorado and Wyoming. Blizzard conditions were expected, with as much as 3 feet of snow and wind gusts of between 50 and 70 mph.

The typically bustling Pilot Travel Center just west of Rapid City was like a ghost town Friday morning, as drivers were likely heeding forecasters' warnings to stay off the roads, said store general manager John Barton.

The blowing snow was picking up outside the truck stop along Interstate 90, which was closed for about 30 miles, and conditions were expected to deteriorate throughout the day.

"Yesterday we were really busy," Barton said. "I think a lot of people got ahead of it."

Although early October snowfalls aren't unusual in the Black Hills, a storm of this magnitude happens only once every decade or two on the plains, National Weather Service meteorologist Steve Trimarchi said.

"I couldn't say when the last time we've had one like this. It's been quite a while," Trimarchi said.

Large hail and powerful winds were forecast to hit northwest Oklahoma later Friday, while heavy rain was expected to swoop northeast across the region into Wisconsin, where warnings were issued for dense fog.

In Nebraska, a tornado that touched down Thursday night damaged homes and businesses in several communities, knocked out power and toppled trees. But no injuries have been reported.

Motorists were being advised to stay off the roads in western South Dakota, where the western 30 miles of I-90 were closed between Sturgis and the Wyoming border. Officials said the road will remain closed until storm conditions improve and crews are able to clear the highway.

The Department of Transportation also advised no travel on some other roadways in the region.

Blizzard warnings were also in effect in Wyoming, where strong winds and up to 15 inches of snow were expected to cause whiteout conditions. Forecasters urged people trying to travel to carry survival kits and to stay in their vehicles if they get stranded.

"These are just really dangerous conditions," Steve Rubin, of the National Weather Service, said Friday.

Snow also was still falling across northern Colorado early Friday, though no major problems were being reported. Forecasters expect snow to be the heaviest in the higher mountains, while the Denver metropolitan area was reporting rain turning into snow.

"This isn't unusual for Colorado this time of year," said Jim Kalina of the National Weather Service in Boulder, Colo.