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Winter Storm Upper Midwest

Tom Skaar of Cheyenne laughs while walking his dogs on House Avenue during a blizzard on Wednesday, March 13, 2019, in Cheyenne, Wyo. White-out conditions closed I-80, I-25, and U.S. 85, effectively closing off the state capital from Nebraska, Colorado and the rest of Wyoming.

CHEYENNE, Wyo. — A window-rattling late winter storm brought blizzards, floods and a tornado across more than 25 states Wednesday, stretching from the northern Rocky Mountains to Texas and beyond.

"This is a very epic cyclone," said Greg Carbin, chief of forecast operations for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Weather Prediction Center. "We're looking at something that will go down in the history books."

Winter Storm Upper Midwest

A snow plow rumbles north on Capitol Avenue during a blizzard on Wednesday, March 13, 2019, in Cheyenne, Wyo. White-out conditions closed I-80, I-25, and U.S. 85, effectively closing off the state capital from Nebraska, Colorado and the rest of Wyoming.

In Colorado, a state patrol officer was hit and killed by a car as he was helping another driver who slid off Interstate 76 near Denver.

Corporal Daniel Groves, 52, was outside his patrol car when he was struck. He died at a hospital.

Hundreds of drivers were stranded on Colorado highways, including 500 in the Colorado Springs area alone. Gov. Jared Polis activated the National Guard to help find and rescue snowbound drivers.

Scores of motorists took refuge at truck stops in eastern Wyoming.

Hundreds of flights were canceled at Denver International Airport, and nearly 40 were grounded in Colorado Springs.

Western Winter Weather

Shoppers struggle to make their ways back to the vehicles outside a grocery store as a late winter storm packing hurricane-force winds and snow sweeps over the intermountain West Wednesday, March 13, 2019, in Denver. 

"It caught me completely off guard," said Sarah Brin of Santa Fe, New Mexico, who was stranded at the Denver airport.

It was supposed to be a brief layover on her flight home from the South by Southwest Film Festival in Austin, Texas, but it turned into an overnight stay.

She booked a room in a downtown hotel and reserved a spot on a shuttle van. But some shuttle trips were canceled because of the weather.

"We'll see if they actually show up," she said.

Many schools and government offices closed for the day. Xcel Energy said high winds caused about 184,000 homes and businesses to lose electricity, mostly in the Denver area. Xcel spokesman Mark Stutz said zero visibility made conditions difficult for repair workers, and it could take days to restore power to everyone.

In North Texas, severe thunderstorms in damaged buildings and flipped over small planes parked at an airport.

Flooding forced evacuations in northeast Nebraska and western Iowa, including a retirement home in Pierce, Nebraska. Residents of Avoca, Iowa, were filling sandbags to keep floodwaters from spreading, and the American Red Cross set up a shelter for anyone who was displaced.

Winter Storm Upper Midwest

A road starts to flood near Canton, S.D. and the Iowa boarder, Wednesday, March 13, 2019. 

Western Winter Weather

Maintenance supervisor Dan Leach frees storm drains of ice and snow at Episcopal Church Homes in St. Paul, Minn. on Tuesday, March 12, 2019. The rain that began falling Tuesday in the Twin Cities was expected to continue through Thursday, making for soggy, foggy — and possibly icy — conditions. A flood watch is in effect for the area Wednesday and Thursday, with temperatures forecast to reach into the 40's, triggering considerable snow melt, according to the National Weather Service. 

Parts of seven states were under blizzard warnings, and 20 states were under some level of high wind alert, Carbin said.

A tornado in New Mexico ripped roofs from buildings in the small town of Dexter, about 200 miles southwest of Albuquerque. Authorities said none of the injuries were life-threatening, but a dairy euthanized about 150 cows injured by the tornado.

Chaves County Sheriff Mike Herrington said the tornado "took out" about 10 homes on one street.

High winds knocked 25 railroad freight cars off a bridge into a mostly dry riverbed near Logan in northeast New Mexico. No one was injured, New Mexico State Police said.

A wind gust of 92 mph was recorded in the mountains northwest of Denver.

The storm was expected to drop up to 22 inches of snow in Wyoming, 14 inches in South Dakota and a foot in Colorado.

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Western Winter Weather

Joe Miller's beard freezes over as he walks through downtown Casper, Wyo., during a winter storm Wednesday, March 13, 2019. The storm brought blizzard conditions to parts of Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, Nebraska and South Dakota. 

Forecasters said the winds would pile snow into deep drifts.

The vast storm stretched at least 1,000 miles, said meteorologist Ryan Maue of weathermodels.com.

"It looks beautiful on satellite as long as you are not caught on it," he said.

The culprit was a sudden and severe drop in ground-level air pressure in Colorado, the most pronounced dive since 1950, Carbin said. It was caused by a combination of the jet stream and normal conditions in the wind shadow of the Rockies.

Winter Weather Wyoming

A man crosses Crow Creek during a blizzard on Wednesday, March 13, 2019, in Cheyenne, Wyo. Heavy snow hit Cheyenne about mid-morning Wednesday and was spreading into Colorado and Nebraska. 

Air rushed into the low-pressure area and then rose into the atmosphere.

"It's like a vacuum cleaner, really," Carbin said. When that much air rushes higher into the atmosphere, it causes severe weather.

Meteorologists call the rapid change in pressure a "bomb cyclone" or "bombogenesis."

Forecasters had warned about the storm for days, Maue said.

"Everybody saw it coming. Some people underestimated it so they're stranded and that's unfortunate," he said.

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