Powerful winter storm rapidly intensified over the central United States on Wednesday, March 13, 2019, producing blizzard conditions and widespread hurricane-force wind gusts. Over 1 100 drivers were stranded, at least one person has been killed and nearly 200 000 left without power.
The storm across the central Plains will continue to bring blizzard conditions to parts of the northern Plains and Rockies through Thursday, where travel remains difficult, the National Weather Service warns. Heavy rain, snowmelt, and ice jams on rivers have produced widespread flooding across the Upper Midwest. Meanwhile, severe storms with damaging winds, hail, and tornadoes are possible from the Great Lakes to the South.
NWS Weather Prediction Center described the storm as a 'cyclone of historic proportions.'
Over the past 24 hours, NWS offices logged about 350 wind gusts of 80+ km/h (50+ mph), with a further 92 reports of damage. The most significant gusts (112+ km/h / 70+ mph) were recorded in northeastern New Mexico, Texas Panhandle and eastern Colorado.
A computerized analysis, from the Real-Time Mesoscale Analysis (RTMA), shows the extent of 50+ MPH wind gusts today as well. The most continuous region is highlighted, but strong gusts likely occurred on ridge tops in other portions of the West as well. pic.twitter.com/PbnTv2DGgC— NWS WPC (@NWSWPC) March 14, 2019
The highest recorded wind gusts through 21:00 CDT, March 13 belongs to San Augustin Pass, NM with 167 km/h (104 mph), followed by Pine Springs, TX with a gust of 166 km/h (103 mph).
A new preliminary record low pressure was set at Pueblo, Colorado. At 07:00 MDT (13:00 UTC), Pueblo reported a sea level pressure of 975.5 hPa. Their previous record low pressure was 976.6 hPa, with records dating back to 1893.
Pueblo's pressure continued falling and finally hit 974.2 hPa before 09:00 MDT (15:00 UTC).
Other preliminary record low pressures have been set by this strong cyclone at: Clayton, NM at 11:00 MDT at 973.4 hPa exceeding 983.1 hPa (length of record 1948) and Dodge City, KS at 976.1 hPa exceeding 977.0 hPa (length of record 1893).
There were almost 2 000 flight cancelations and 2 700 flights delayed due to powerful winds and heavy snow that hit northern Colorado, including Denver, western Nebraska, eastern Wyoming, central South Dakota and southeastern North Dakota.
Widespread structural damage was reported, massive power outages (nearly 200 000 customers) and difficult driving conditions, including complete whiteouts in parts of the region.
"Snowfall totals so far are as high as 40 cm (16 inches) in the mountains of Colorado, with 18 cm (7.1 inches) reported in Denver and about 10 cm (4 inches) in the Boulder area. Many schools, including those in the Denver area, have already been canceled for Thursday," AccuWeather Meteorologist Faith Eherts said.
More than 800 km (500 miles) of I-80 were closed or partially closed from Rock Springs, Wyoming to Kearney, Nebraska. I-25 was also closed for more than 480 km (300 miles) from Buffalo, Wyoming to the Colorado border. I-70 in Colorado was closed in both directions from Aurora to Goodland, Kansas. A part of I-70 west of Denver was also closed in both directions as well as I-76 from the northeast of Denver to the Wyoming state line. I-90 in South Dakota was closed from Wall to Chamberlain. All state highways and interstates were closed in Nebraska Panhandle and several state highways in western Kansas.
Westbound interstate 70 Vail Pass is open. Roads are very slick at this time. Eastbound at Vail Pass remains closed estimated 2 hours. You will see this semi near milepost 170, but roadway is clear so plz continue. pic.twitter.com/B6JIzecuKP— CSP Eagle (@CSP_Eagle) March 13, 2019
The El Paso, CO County Commission Chairman declared and emergency Wednesday afternoon to allow the county to ask for state and national help to rescue 1 100 stranded motorists.
Meanwhile, Colorado Governor Jared Police declared a state of emergency, and the National Guard was activated to assist with search, rescue and life safety operations.
A Colorado State Patrol corporal was hit and killed while he was outside his vehicle helping with a car that slid off I-86 inWeldc County. He was taken to a hospital where he was pronounced dead.
A massive pileup with dozens of vehicles took place on southbound lanes of I-25 south of Denver.
NWS compared the storm with the famously powerful March 13, 1993 winter cyclone dubbed The Storm of the Century. Yesterday's storm was of very similar intensity, producing incredible winds and blizzard conditions, the service said.
A side-by-side look at two historic cyclones exactly 26 years and about 1500 miles apart! pic.twitter.com/F8y4W509BY— NWS WPC (@NWSWPC) March 13, 2019
The intense storm across the midsection of the nation that has been responsible for heavy snows, blizzard conditions and widespread wind gusts over hurricane force will be pressing northeastward through the Upper Mississippi Valley into the Upper Great Lakes on Thursday, March 14, NWS forecaster Oravec noted.
While the storm has reached its lowest pressure and will gradually weaken over the next few days, strong winds will continue on the west side of the storm across portions of the Central and Northern Plains.
Blizzard conditions are expected to continue into the first half of Thursday over northeast Colorado and for most of the day from eastern Wyoming, across most of Nebraska, South Dakota, eastern North Dakota into northwest Minnesota.
Travel will remain difficult and life-threatening across these areas, with improving conditions Thursday night into Friday as the storm pushes farther off to the northeast.
As the strong storm pushes northeastward today into the Upper Mississippi Valley, winds will be lessening across the Central to Southern Plains that experienced widespread wind gust over hurricane force during the past 24 hours.
High wind warnings remain in effect into Thursday morning for southeast Colorado and western Kansas, but overall a much smaller area of strong wind gusts expected Thursday as the storm moves away from this region.
The associated cold front with this strong storm will continue to be a focus for thunderstorm activity from the Lower Mississippi Valley into the Tennessee and Ohio Valleys.
Heavy rains, isolated flooding and severe weather are possible with these thunderstorms across these regions. A taste of spring temperatures likely ahead of the above mentioned cold front on Thursday for all areas to the east of the Mississippi River and for areas east of the Appalachians on Friday.
Much colder temperatures expected in the wake of this front today from the Great Basin, Rockies into the Plains. These colder temperatures will be spreading eastward on Friday into the Mississippi, Ohio and Tennessee Valleys and into much of the eastern U.S. on Saturday.
Featured image credit: CSP Eagle