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UPDATE 1-Blizzard hammers central U.S. Plains, grounding flights and cutting power

Updated: 13-03-2019 21:41 IST
UPDATE 1-Blizzard hammers central U.S. Plains, grounding flights and cutting power

A late-winter blizzard pounded the U.S. central Plains states on Wednesday, bringing high winds and an expected 2 feet of snow, disrupting air travel and causing power outages. Authorities issued alerts and shut down schools and government offices across Denver and other Rocky Mountain and Plains communities.

The U.S. National Weather Service issued blizzard warnings for northeastern Colorado, southeastern Wyoming, western Nebraska and parts of the Dakotas. "They typically do get strong systems this time of the year in that part of the country, but this one is maybe a notch stronger than what you typically see,” said meteorologist Marc Chenard of the weather service's Weather Prediction Center in College Park, Maryland.

Forecasters said they expect winds of up to 70 miles per hour (110 km per hour) to sweep across a wide area of states to the south, including New Mexico and parts of Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas. "Pretty much through much of the Plains there’s going to be a threat for potential power outage issues,” Chenard said.

More than 100,000 electric power customers in the Dallas-Fort Worth area were left in the dark early Wednesday after a line of rain squalls associated with the system moved through the area. Around Denver, the most populated area covered by the blizzard warnings, rain was expected to turn into snow on Wednesday morning and continue into the night as the storm moves eastward to the Upper Midwest, where snow will end on Thursday, Chenard said.

The storm threat had already forced the cancellation of more than half the nearly 1,050 flights into or out of Denver International Airport by early Wednesday, according to the tracking site FlightAware. Airlines canceling flights going to or from Denver included Southwest Airlines, United Airlines and Frontier Airlines, the airport said.

In anticipation of the storm, Denver's public school system canceled all classes and school-related activities for Wednesday. South Dakota closed all state government offices in the central and western part of the state. The storm was also expected to bring heavy rain to areas of eastern Nebraska, Iowa, Wisconsin and Minnesota that already have a good deal of snow on the ground, raising the threat of river flooding, the weather service said.

By Thursday, the storm system will weaken as it moves over the Tennessee River Valley, bringing mostly rain from Michigan southward to the Gulf Coast and some remaining snow only in the far northern parts of the country, the weather service said. (Reporting by Keith Coffman in Denver, additional reporting by Rich McKay in Atlanta, Peter Szekely in New York and Brendan O'Brien in Milwaukee; Editing by Scott Malone and Jonathan Oatis)