ST. LOUIS — A powerful spring storm system stretching from southern Texas to northern Michigan unleashed a wave of weather extremes on the Midwest Thursday and threatened to bring its mix of hard rains, high winds and severe thunderstorms to the East by the weekend.
The massive system was wreaking havoc from the Rockies to the Rust Belt. Up to a foot of snow was expected in parts of Minnesota and the Dakotas. Snow and ice closed highways in Colorado and Wyoming. Rivers surged beyond their banks from downpours in Missouri, Iowa and Illinois. Tornadoes caused scattered damage in Oklahoma. Hail caused a wreck that injured a high school teacher and her students. Lightning temporarily knocked out a nuclear power plant. Rain caused a sinkhole that devoured three cars in Chicago.
In the Plains and Midwest, seemingly every community was under some sort of watch or warning.
Alex Sosnowski, a meteorologist for AccuWeather, said the storm's biggest punch had come from its intense rainfall: "There's been a general 3 to 6 inch swath of rain from portions of Oklahoma all the way up to southern Wisconsin."
The system will thin out as it heads east but could still spell trouble in the Appalachian Mountain region Friday and in some spots along the East Coast by Friday night, Sosnowski said.
Midwesterners will be glad to see it go.
In Clarksville, Mo., a small, scenic Mississippi River town about 60 miles north of St. Louis, some 100 people were working feverishly to build a makeshift levee of gravel, plastic overlap and sandbags in a bid keep downtown dry. The heavy rain caused a sudden surge in the river, with a crest expected by early Sunday.
"I'm confident it will work, but I'm not confident we're going to get it done in time," Clarksville resident Richard Cottrell, 64, said of the sandbag levee. "It's a race against the clock."