April 9, 2013 / 9:49 PM / 4 years ago

U.S. Plains states brace for more wild weather

KANSAS CITY, Missouri (Reuters) - Residents of the central United States braced for a night of nasty weather on Tuesday, with high wind, rain, sleet, hail and possible tornadoes forecast from north Texas through Nebraska.

Meteorologists said the stormy weather would result from a clash of warm southern air with a cold air mass sweeping through eastern Colorado, where heavy snow in Denver closed the airport and forced the cancellation of 535 flights on Tuesday.

"These are a couple of last hurrahs for winter," said Mike July, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Kansas City. "We are going through that phase of the season when we can have some rapid changes."

Moderate to heavy snow and gusty winds were forecast for Colorado, Nebraska, South Dakota and Wyoming. A day earlier in northeast Colorado, four tornado sightings were reported.

Areas south and east of the snowstorm will see sleet and freezing rain and potential flash flooding as the storm moves east, the weather service said.

Strong to severe thunderstorms were expected to move through north Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas through Tuesday evening, the weather service said.

The biggest threat in Kansas and Missouri on Tuesday evening will be hail of up to one inch in diameter, July said.

In Oklahoma, the National Weather Service warned that severe storms with possibly baseball-sized hail were likely to strike the area on Tuesday evening into Wednesday. Sleet and snow were expected, and winds gusting up to 45 miles per hour were forecast, the Weather Service said.

Oklahoma could also get some tornado activity, July said.

"There will be heavy rains through Thursday of 1.5 inches up to 3 inches in the Plains and central Midwest with 3 to 12 inches of snow in Nebraska, northeast Colorado, South Dakota, Minnesota and northern Iowa," said Don Keeney, a meteorologist for MDA Weather Services, a private forecaster.

In Denver, rain turned to snow overnight, with up to 11 inches of snow expected Tuesday. Temperatures that had been in the low 70s (Fahrenheit) on Monday dropped into the teens on Tuesday in Denver and in western Kansas, weather officials said.

In Washington County east of Denver, a microburst destroyed a mobile home and sheared off three 45-foot power poles, temporarily knocking out power to residents of Akron on Monday night, said Mike McCaleb, the county's director of emergency services.

A microburst is a sudden rush of air downward that is sometimes confused with a tornado and can do similar damage.

Large parts of western South Dakota including the Black Hills could get up to 20 inches of snow through Wednesday morning, the National Weather Service said.

Heavy snow was falling in western Nebraska, where a winter storm warning was in effect and Interstate 80 was closed in both directions due to blowing snow and poor visibility, according to the Nebraska Roads Department.

Additional reporting by Jane Sutton in Miami, Katie Schubert in Omaha, Carey Gillam in Kansas City and Steve Olafson in Oklahoma City; Editing by Maureen Bavdek, Greg McCune and Jim Loney

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