By Kevin Murphy
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 South Dakota.
Meteorologists said the stormy weather results 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.
As much as 2 feet of snow fell Tuesday in the far west portion of Nebraska, according to the National Weather Service, with drifts of 5 feet or more. Interstate 80 from Sidney, Nebraska, to the Wyoming border remained closed Tuesday evening due to blowing snow and poor visibility.
South Dakota officials Tuesday evening closed Interstate 90 between Rapid City and Sioux Falls until conditions improved. Motorists attempting to travel in the Sioux Falls area have encountered ice, fallen tree limbs, and traffic light outages.
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.
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 storm system dropped penny-sized hail in the Texas Panhandle as it moved southeast and sent temperatures plunging into the upper 20s, according to the National Weather Service in Amarillo.
RAINS IN THE PLAINS
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.
A winter weather advisory was issued for the western half of Oklahoma and north Texas by the National Weather Service, which warned that the accumulation of ice on power lines and trees posed the biggest potential problem.
A severe thunderstorm watch was issued Tuesday evening for large areas of southern Kansas, western Oklahoma and north Texas, the weather service said.
(Additional reporting by Jane Sutton in Miami, Katie Schubert in Omaha, Tim Bross in Sioux Falls, Carey Gillam in Kansas City and Steve Olafson in Oklahoma City; Editing by Maureen Bavdek, Greg McCune and Jim Loney)