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Published April 09, 2013, 08:58 AM

Strong snow storm bears down on South Dakota

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) — An early spring storm walloped South Dakota early Tuesday with rain, thunder, heavy snow and strong winds, and cutting power to thousands of homes and businesses.

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) — An early spring storm walloped South Dakota early Tuesday with rain, thunder, heavy snow and strong winds, and cutting power to thousands of homes and businesses.

The South Dakota Department of Transportation and the Federal Emergency Management Agency issued statements urging drivers to be cautious on the roads and to make plans for possible power outages.

"Spring storms are not unusual, but they can be very dangerous," said Greg Fuller, operations director for the Transportation Department. Up to a foot of snow fell in southwestern North Dakota on Monday, causing several vehicle accidents.

Schools closed across the state, as did some city and county offices. Secretary of State Jason Gant reported that more than two dozen cities and school districts informed him they were delaying elections for a week. Only personnel deemed essential were required to report to Ellsworth Air Force Base near Rapid City. Spring construction projects were halted in some cities.

Gov. Dennis Daugaard's office issued a statement saying state government offices were open in Pierre but urging people to call ahead before visiting.

"State employees, like other South Dakota residents, are digging out from the storm," the statement said.

National Weather Service meteorologist Todd Heitkamp in Sioux Falls said that office had reports of ice accumulations from one-quarter of an inch up to nearly half an inch, leading to power outages and widespread tree damage.

Ice and ice-coated tree branches brought down power lines in eastern South Dakota. Xcel Energy said about 4,000 customers were still without power in Sioux Falls late Tuesday morning, down from about 9,000 earlier.

Sioux Falls officials activated an emergency operation center, saying ice accumulation on roads, trees and power lines was leading to many emergency 911 calls.

Heitkamp said another quarter inch of rain was expected in the Sioux Falls area early Tuesday evening, followed by winds gusting to 30-40 miles per hour and 4 to 7 inches of snow after midnight.

"That's going to add to the weight of the trees, to the power lines," he said. "Then we get the wind on top of that and then we get the snow on top of that. You can envision what can possibly occur."

The agency issued storm advisories, watches and warnings for South Dakota. Forecasters said the storm moving across the Rocky Mountains and Greats Plains packed up to 20 inches of snow, along with sleet, freezing rain and winds gusting to 40 mph.

On Monday, up to a foot of snow fell in southwestern North Dakota, along with freezing rain and sleet, creating icy conditions and prompting officials to advise no travel in the region for a time. No serious injuries were reported despite a large number of vehicle accidents. An oil tanker crashed near South Heart, just south of Interstate 94 west of Dickinson, and spilled what authorities called a minimal amount of oil into the ditch.

The moisture brought by the storm was welcomed by farmers and landowners in the midst of drought in southwestern North Dakota and northwestern South Dakota, site of a grassland fire late last week that blackened more than 16 square miles.

"This spring precipitation — snow, rain whatever it might be — certainly helps but we do need a lot more of it, otherwise we're going to be looking at probably some larger fires," North Dakota Forest Service Fire Manager Sarah Tunge told KXMB-TV.

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