Dakotas face blizzard while Arkansas tornado kills 3

SIOUX FALLS, Iowa Fri Dec 31, 2010 12:46pm EST

SIOUX FALLS, Iowa (Reuters) - The Dakotas were facing a major blizzard on Friday, with high winds and bitterly cold temperatures, while thunderstorms and a deadly tornado hit Arkansas.

The tornado killed three people in Washington County in northwest Arkansas, according to emergency officials.

The Dakotas are getting a one-two punch. The plains states saw up to six inches of snow Thursday, followed by a severe drop in temperature, according to senior meteorologist Mike Palmerino of Telvent/DTN. This will be followed by a "major blizzard" on Friday, with snowfalls of up to 10-12 inches, accompanied by strong winds and bitter cold. The storm extends into western Minnesota.

"It looks like a really dangerous storm today," said Palmerino.

Lines formed at grocery stores in Sioux Falls, S.D., where snow was already falling heavily late Friday morning as residents stocked up on supplies.

Tom Dravland, secretary of public safety in South Dakota, cautioned residents conditions would get worse before they got better, and expressed concern about people traveling to New Year's Eve parties.

"We hope that folks will use good judgment and really try to limit their travel today," he told reporters.

Thursday's storm already wreaked traffic havoc around the plains. A 100-car accident on I-94 west of Fargo, North Dakota, Thursday morning injured four people, including one man who remains in critical condition, said Captain Eldon Mehrer, commander for the North Dakota State Highway Patrol.

The overnight snow storm that pounded parts of Minnesota caused hundreds of accidents and two fatal crashes, authorities said.

Omaha and Des Moines had temperatures in the '60s Thursday and the low teens Friday, he said. A similar pattern is expected in Chicago. He said the heart of the Midwest will escape major snowfall.

"The main news is going to be the dramatic shift from unseasonably warm weather back to winter cold," Palmerino said.

Palmerino said the temperature extremes are fueling severe thunderstorm and tornado conditions in the lower Mississippi valley, from Arkansas into Louisiana, going across Mississippi and into Alabama.

(Additional reporting by Eric Johnson; Writing by Mary Wisniewski; Editing by Jerry Norton)

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