DISASTERS

Howling winter storm could spawn thunderstorms too

A howling storm that dumped more than a foot of snow on some parts of Colorado was laying it on thick in Nebraska and Iowa Tuesday, bringing with it the potential for severe thunderstorms and even tornadoes elsewhere.

The heavy snowfall and powerful winds knocked out power for some people and forced travelers to heed warnings and hunker down. Schools, businesses and institutions closed their doors and flights were canceled across states stretching from New Mexico to Upper Michigan. A blizzard warning extended from northwest Kansas to southwest Minnesota.

"No one is really on the road," said Dean Habhab, who manages a truck stop in Iowa, where Democrats and Republicans gathered for caucuses Monday. Habhab couldn't see more than a half-mile outside his Sioux City location, he said.

William Klee at Des Moines International Airport said heavy snow appeared to have abated late Tuesday morning. After some early cancellations, flights were running as scheduled by late morning, Klee said. All the candidates appeared to have made it out of Des Moines, beginning the weeklong trek to the New Hampshire primary.

Portions of Interstate 80 were closed in Nebraska, a section of Interstate 29 in South Dakota, and Interstate 76 was closed from the Nebraska-Colorado line to Denver. Sections of Interstate 70 in Kansas and Colorado were closed as well.

Delivering the mail in such bad weather stinks, said letter carrier Mark Rettele from his post office in Ralston, Nebraska, which he reached after a perilous 30-minute drive from his home seven miles away.

"There are parts of my route I won't be able to get to until tomorrow or possibly the day after," Rettele said.

Thunderclaps were heard in Omaha and other parts of Nebraska as the snow fell, and the system was spawning thunderstorms and heavy rain to the southeast and south.

Greg Dial with the National Weather Service's Storm Prediction Center said warm air from the Gulf of Mexico kept the snow at bay and was bringing unusually high winter temperatures to many states. The temperature in Evansville, Indiana, was forecast to peak at 69F Tuesday.

The center predicted the chances of severe thunderstorms and tornadoes would therefore increase east of the Mississippi River as the cold front moved in that direction. Dial said they could erupt late Tuesday morning or in the evening across much of southeast Missouri, southern Illinois, southwest Indiana and western Kentucky.

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Associated Press reporters Colleen Slevin in Denver; Dirk Lammers in Sioux Falls, South Dakota; Heather Hollingsworth in Kansas City, Missouri; and Josh Funk and Margery Beck in Omaha, Nebraska, contributed to this report.