"Bomb cyclone" blasting parts of Midwest – live updates

/ CBS/AP

A massive late-winter storm described by meteorologists as a "bomb cyclone" unleashed powerful winds as well as heavy rain and snow on parts of the Midwest plains early Thursday. National Guard troops used specialized vehicles with tank-like treads to rescue stranded drivers in Colorado.

South Dakota's governor closed all state offices Thursday as the blizzard conditions moved in, while wind, blowing snow and snow-packed roadways also made travel treacherous in western Nebraska. Heavy rain caused flooding in eastern parts of both states and in Iowa.

Wednesday's blizzard in Colorado caused widespread power outages, forced the cancellation of hundreds of flights and wreaked havoc on roadways as drivers became overwhelmed by blinding snow. A wind gust clocked in at 97 mph in Colorado Springs.

The storm also contributed to the death of Corporal Daniel Groves, a Colorado State Patrol officer who was hit and killed by a car as he helped another driver who had slid off Interstate 76 near Denver. "It is a tragic reminder that people's lives are at stake," said Shoshana Lew, head of the Colorado Department of Transportation. "The best place to be is at home and off the roads."

Follow winter storm updates below

Hurricane-force winds hit Denver

Trees snapped by high winds from a late winter storm packing hurricane-force winds and snow cover the Eugene Field house in Washington Park March 13, 2019, in Denver. AP Photo/David Zalubowski

The storm hit Denver with rare intensity, CBS News correspondent Janet Shamlian reports. A car was smashed by a large tree as hurricane-force winds hit the area.

A whiteout on Colorado roads and interstates left traffic at a standstill for hours. On Interstate 76, the blizzard whirled around cars.

Winds pushed 18-wheelers around like toys. "Dude, that semi just slid into that other semi," a man said on a video provided to CBS News.

More than 125 crashes happened Wednesday in Denver alone. Officials shut down major interstates for driver safety.

Semi, freight-train cars no match for winds

The same system swept through Texas with winds topping 80 mph, flipping a semitruck on a highway and sending a tree through homes in Dallas, CBS News correspondent Janet Shamlian reports. In New Mexico, high winds blew freight cars off their tracks.

What is a bomb cyclone?

The strength of a storm is measured by its central pressure, Lonnie Quinn, chief weathercaster for CBS New York station WCBS-TV explained on "CBS This Morning." The lower that number, the stronger the storm.

This storm hit a minimum central pressure of 968 millibars. By comparison, Hurricane Florence earlier this year made landfall at 958 millibars.

This is basically a snowy hurricane, but it's a "bomb cyclone" because it got as strong as it did in just 24 hours.

One reason for the storm's strength is dry desert air has clashed with moist air from the Gulf of Mexico. Another reason is the storm's formation.

Typically, storms will have a center of circulation at the ground and another high in the sky. The closer those two get to each other, the stronger a storm becomes.

With this storm, the two centers are basically on top of each other. That creates a tunnel for air to rise.

The faster that air rises, the stronger the storm becomes. As that air rises, it pulls in air from surrounding areas, creating in this case record-setting wind gusts.

First published on March 14, 2019 / 11:25 AM

© 2019 CBS Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Trees snapped by high winds from a late winter storm packing hurricane-force winds and snow cover the Eugene Field house in Washington Park March 13, 2019, in Denver.

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