RAPID CITY, S.D. (AP) — A powerful winterlike storm moving through the Great Plains was closing schools and causing travel headaches in several states, authorities said Thursday.
Winter storm warnings and watches stretched from Wyoming and Montana through western Nebraska and into the Dakotas and Minnesota. Forecasters said the storm packs strong winds and double-digit snowfall totals, along with blizzardlike conditions through Friday.
Blowing and drifting snow were making travel hazardous, with wind gusts approaching 40 mph (64.4 kph) in some areas.
The National Weather Service in Bismarck, North Dakota, said a "potentially historic October winter storm" was in the making.
Dozens of school districts canceled classes or started late in South Dakota and western Nebraska, including Chadron State College in Chadron, Nebraska.
People were shoveling snow instead of raking fall leaves in some communities.
"The ground is warm underneath, so soon as you scoop it the sidewalks are clear," said Drew Petersen, who owns a drugstore in Chadron, where more than 5 inches (12.7 inches) have fallen so far.
His out-of-town employees made it to work, he said, but they reported that the roads are snow-covered and slushy.
Forecasters predicted a foot (30.5 centimeters) of snow or more for parts of the Dakotas through Friday and nearly a foot in Nebraska.
The storm has dropped 8 inches (20.3 centimeters) of snow on the west side of Rapid City, South Dakota, National Weather Service meteorologist Dave Hintz said. More was expected before ending Thursday afternoon as the storm heads northeast, Hintz said.
Winter storms arriving just three weeks into fall aren't unusual, but they can blow into howling blizzards. Hintz recalled an October 2013 storm in which hundreds of cattle perished. Snow reached 55 inches (1.4 meters) deep in the South Dakota community of Lead.
The storm left 32,000 customers without power in Washington state Wednesday.
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