‘Bomb cyclone’ pushes east across U.S. after winter siege of Midwest, Rockies

A general view of the blizzard in Greeley, Colorado, U.S. March 13, 2019 in this picture obtained from social media. Mandatory credit TWITTER @PHOTOWILLG/via REUTERS

(Reuters) – A powerful, late-winter “bomb cyclone” storm pushed east into the U.S. Midwest and the Great Lakes region on Friday after bombarding the Rocky Mountain and Plains states with blizzards, floods and tornados, prompting precautions at a Nebraska nuclear power plant.

In Iowa, a disaster proclamation by Governor Kim Reynolds, issued after reports of flooding, remained in effect overnight.

Nebraska Governor Pete Ricketts also issued an emergency declaration after rain-swollen rivers and dam breaches left many bridges and roads impassable and prompted thousands of residents of the farm state to evacuate.

“Widespread and extremely dangerous flooding will continue today and tonight,” the National Weather Service office in Omaha, Nebraska, said on Friday in a statement.

Many streams will see moderate to major flooding through the weekend, the service added, and flooding along the Missouri River will continue into next week.

The Nebraska Public Power District declared an “unusual event” at its Cooper Nuclear Station power plant on Friday due to the possibility of flooding along the Missouri.

Workers filled sandbags along the river levee and procured other materials for flood protection, the power agency said. It said the plant continued to operate safely and there was no threat to plant employees or to the public.

Thirteen tornados were reported on Thursday in Kentucky, Indiana and Michigan, said Bob Oravec, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service’s Weather Prediction Center in College Park, Maryland, but there were no immediate reports of serious damage.

Meteorologists referred to the storm as a “bomb cyclone,” a winter hurricane that forms when the barometric pressure drops 24 millibars in 24 hours.

At the storm’s peak, 2 feet of snow was dumped on Colorado’s mountain regions, forcing the cancellation of more than 1,300 flights in Denver and trapping more than 1,000 motorists on roadsides. Many had to be rescued by police, who used school buses to ferry them to safety.

There were no remaining blizzard warnings Friday, Oravec said.

“There’s still a good threat of thunderstorms in Louisiana, Mississippi and up into the Great Lakes region as the system pushes into Canada, but it’s not like it was,” he said.

Most power outages were cleared by early Friday, according to the tracking site PowerOutage.US, and air traffic returned to normal at Denver International Airport, a regional hub that was hardest hit by the storm.

(Reporting by Rich McKay; Additional reporting by Keith Coffman, Dan Whitcomb and Scott DiSavino; Editing by Mark Potter and Jonathan Oatis)

Historic Floods Continue to Devastate Missouri, United States

Significant portions of the United States remained under flood warnings on Wednesday morning as the fallout from a powerful storm system left their communities waterlogged.

The National Weather Service issued flood warnings in at least 18 states in the Gulf Coast, Atlantic Coast and Ohio Valley. Most of the warnings were concentrated in Illinois, Missouri and Oklahoma, three of the states that received the highest rainfall totals during the recent storm.

According to the National Weather Service, the storm dropped six to 12 inches of rain across those three states and northwest Arkansas, where additional flood warnings were in effect.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) said 379 river gauges across the country were in flood stage Wednesday morning, including 48 that reported “major flooding.” Those were down from Tuesday’s respective totals of 438 and 53, but that decline likely provided little relief to the regions that were still underwater, or where floodwaters were expected to rise.

Those river gauges don’t necessarily include lakes or other smaller bodies of water, like creeks or streams, that were also flooding. The rivers alone reached historic levels in several communities.

According to the NOAA, the Meramec River, which runs just south of Saint Louis, had already surpassed its record crests in two different locations on Wednesday morning. That included a whopping 45.33-foot total near Eureka, which was about 2.5 feet above a 33-year-old record and more than 25 feet above the threshold for what the NOAA considers to be major flooding. The waters were expected to continue to rise, reaching an all-time high of 46.2 feet later Wednesday.

Those rising waters were also forcing some mandatory evacuations and road closures.

City officials in Valley Park, Missouri, ordered residents to leave their homes and seek higher ground as the Meramec River reached 40 feet, according to the city’s Facebook page. The Missouri Department of Transportation shut down a 20-mile stretch of Interstate 44 near St. Louis because of flooding, according to a news release. That road is expected to be closed several days.

The National Weather Service reported that Union, Missouri, received more than a foot of rain in the storm. According to the NOAA, the Bourbeuse River reached a historic height of 34.31 feet on Tuesday before receding to 29.3 feet on Wednesday morning. Still, that was three feet above the threshold for major flooding in the city, located some 55 miles southwest of Saint Louis.

Missouri Governor Jay Nixon has declared a state of emergency and activated the National Guard, according to a news release from his office. The National Guard will assist evacuation efforts, as well as ensure traffic stays away from the numerous closed roads. Floods have killed 13 people in the state alone, according to the governor’s office, 12 of whom died when rushing waters swept vehicles off roads. St. Louis County officials also declared a countywide state of emergency, writing in a news release that the waters trapped people in businesses and homes.

Some locations along the Mississippi River were also expected to see record flooding, according to the NOAA. But even in areas where records weren’t broken, the waters were still very high.

The NOAA indicated there was major flooding along several rivers in Illinois, Missouri, Texas, Oklahoma and Arkansas. Minor or moderate flooding was occurring in parts of the southeast.