Blizzard, fierce winds expected to clobber U.S. Plains states

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DENVER (Reuters) – A late-winter blizzard is expected to clobber the U.S. Central Plains states Wednesday with up to two feet of snow and fierce winds and bring floods in the Upper Midwest, the National Weather Service said.

Authorities issued alerts and shut down schools and government offices across Denver and other mountain and plains communities. Blizzard conditions were expected from northeastern Colorado, southeastern Wyoming, western Nebraska and parts of North Dakota and South Dakota, the weather service said.

“It’s late in the season for this weather, but this is going to be serious,” said Brian Hurley of the NWS Weather Prediction Center in College Park, Maryland.

“We’re anticipating 20-to-30 degree weather and winds from 50, 60 and 70 mph in the region,” Hurley said. “The snow will start mid-morning, but the worst of it will be from mid-afternoon (Wednesday) and overnight into Thursday.”

Southwest Airlines canceled all flights in and out of Denver International Airport for most of Wednesday, the Denver Post reported.

About 2,000 flights were canceled early Wednesday with about 900 reported at that airport, the biggest regional hub, according to the flight tracking site FlightAware.

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,” said meteorologist Mark Chenard of the NWS.

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 Keith Coffman in Denver; writing and additional reporting by Rich McKay in Atlanta; additional reporting by Peter Szekely in New York and Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee; Editing by Andrew Heavens