By Timothy Mclaughlin and Renita D. Young
(Reuters) - The season's first major winter storm in the continental United States swept the northern Plains with heavy snow and high winds on Friday, creating blizzard conditions in parts of South Dakota and Minnesota.
The National Weather Service posted a winter storm warning for central Minnesota and blizzard warnings within the region, where Morrison County Emergency Management Office spokeswoman Victoria Ingram said early morning rain on Friday had given way to snow.
"We are reporting heavy snow and wind," she said by telephone, adding that total accumulation was expected to range from 5 inches (13 cm) to 13 inches (33 cm).
The Weather Service said intensifying wind gusts, which could reach 55 miles per hour (89 kph), were combining with heavy snow to create blizzard conditions in west-central Minnesota and extreme eastern South Dakota.
The storm was expected to intensify through Friday afternoon and into the evening, with the heaviest snowfalls forecast for the Arrow Head region of Minnesota, the Weather Service said.
The storm first moved into parts of the Rocky Mountains and northern Plains on Thursday, forcing cattle ranchers in South Dakota to move their herds closer to food and water sources.
In Evergreen, Colorado, in the state's central region, snowfall was blamed for a 20-car crash on Interstate 70 that forced a closure of the highway on Thursday, authorities said. Two minor injuries were reported.
The chain-reaction wreck began with two cars colliding, causing a truck to jack-knife, according to Doug Saba, a spokesman for Evergreen Fire and Rescue. The area had received around 5 inches (13 cm) of snow on Thursday after a dramatic temperature drop, Saba said.
The crash was one of six responded to by Evergreen fire and rescue crews on Thursday, Saba said, adding that two deaths were reported statewide in separate weather-related accidents.
"The highway accumulated snow pretty quickly and turned into a slush on the highway before the plows could get there," he said by telephone on Friday.
(Reporting by Timothy Mclaughlin and Renita D. Young in Chicago; Editing by Steve Gorman and Sandra Maler)