RAPID CITY, S.D. (AP) -- A wintry blast of punishing wind and more than 3 feet of snow in places pummeled the Northern Plains on Thursday, knocking out power to thousands and forcing highways to close.
As much as 40 inches of snow fell in higher elevations of western South Dakota's Black Hills as the early season blizzard caused havoc. Drifts as deep as 6 feet covered roads in Spearfish.
"It's a raging blizzard out there," said Jeff Schild, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service office in Rapid City.
Weather problems halted or disrupted traffic on Interstates 80, 90 and 94 in the Dakotas, Nebraska and Wyoming.
In Rapid City, a wind gust of 78 mph was measured late Wednesday, and gusts of 60 mph were still being reported Thursday morning.
The snow came down -- sideways might be a better description -- at a rate of 3 inches an hour overnight. It slacked off to 1 to 2 inches per hour late Thursday morning, Schild said.
More than 10,000 customers lost power at some point in Nebraska and South Dakota.
In North Dakota, parts of Dunn County received about 9 inches of snow, the Weather Service said.
"The wind is blowing so hard it's hard to tell how much snow we got," said Terry Sarlsland, street superintendent in Bowman, N.D. "We got 4-foot drifts in some places."
Sharon Gjermundson, a postmaster in Taylor, N.D., said that about a foot of snow kept her from punching in at work Thursday, and that she and her husband were worried about their livestock.
"We hope all the cattle are OK," she said.
(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)