Blizzard threatens central U.S. with two feet of snow, powerful winds

By Peter Szekely

By Peter Szekely

(Reuters) - A late-winter storm this week could dump up to two feet (60 cm) of snow and bring fierce winds to the U.S. Central Plains states, potentially snarling travel and bringing flooding to the Upper Midwest, U.S. forecasters said on Tuesday.

The storm, now brewing as low-pressure center in the southwest, will quickly move into the Rocky Mountains and deliver one to two feet of snow with blizzard conditions in much of Colorado and parts of Wyoming, Nebraska and South Dakota on Wednesday, the National Weather Service predicted.

Winds gusts could reach 70 miles (113 km) per hour and cause snow drifts, whiteout conditions and power outages throughout the region, forecasters said.

"We are advising to stay off the roads through the afternoon and evening," Treste Huse, a National Weather Service meteorologist in Denver, said on Tuesday afternoon. "It will be a quick, but powerful storm... with the worst of it probably late morning or afternoon."

The biggest air travel hub likely to be affected by the snow is Denver International Airport, but cross-continental air travel lanes could be disrupted as well as the system brings a line of rain squalls eastward, forecasters said.

"The calm before the storm," Denver International Airport said on Tuesday on Twitter as the airport prepared for the blizzard. "We are anticipating some possible delays and cancellations, be sure to check your flight status with your airline."

Schools across Colorado canceled classes ahead of the storm while Denver Public School District officials were considering closing school early on Wednesday, local media reported.

The storm will also bring heavy rain to areas of eastern Nebraska, Iowa, Wisconsin and Minnesota that already have a good deal of snow on the ground, the NWS said.

"We could have the potential for major river flooding, given the rain and the snow melt," meteorologist Mark Chenard said in by telephone from the NWS Weather Prediction Center in College Park, Maryland.

An earlier round of heavy, wet snow caused several roofs to collapse, including those of a church and a hotel, in the Upper Midwest last weekend.

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, he added.

(Reporting by Peter Szekely in New York and Brendan O'Brien in Milwaukee; editing by Scott Malone, Steve Orlofsky and Dan Grebler)