National Guard troops were using specialized vehicles with tank-like treads to rescue stranded drivers in Colorado in the wake of a massive late-winter storm that was expected to unleash heavy rain and snow on the Midwest plains on Thursday.

Wednesday’s blizzard 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 (156 kph) 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.

Traffic stops in the eastbound lanes of Interstate 70 near Tower Road as a late winter storm packing hurricane-force winds and snow sweeps over the intermountain West Wednesday, March 13, 2019, in Auora, Colo. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
Traffic stops in the eastbound lanes of Interstate 70 near Tower Road as a late winter storm packing hurricane-force winds and snow sweeps over the intermountain West Wednesday, March 13, 2019, in Auora, Colo. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

“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.”

Lew warned drivers that conditions would remain precarious at least through Thursday.

About 200 vehicles were disabled on Interstate 25 near Colorado Springs, and many more drivers were being rescued on secondary roads, said Kyle Lester with the transportation department’s Division of Highway Maintenance.

Canada geese battle choppy water as a late winter storm packing hurricane-force winds and snow sweeps over the intermountain West Wednesday, March 13, 2019, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
Canada geese battle choppy water as a late winter storm packing hurricane-force winds and snow sweeps over the intermountain West Wednesday, March 13, 2019, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

One of the stranded drivers was Bria McKenzie, 22, who with her mother, brother and sister, was stuck in her car for more than two hours on a hilly road in Colorado Springs. She said the snow was so blinding and numbing, and the wind was whipping so hard, she didn’t feel safe walking to a hospital that was just down the road.

“It was just like every second you were out there, it felt like parts of you were just freezing,” she said.

McKenzie and her family were eventually rescued by her father in his pickup.

This undated photo provided by the Colorado State Patrol shows Cpl. Daniel Groves. The state patrol officer was hit and killed by a car as he was helping another driver who had slid off of Interstate 76 northeast of Denver. (Colorado State Patrol via AP)
This undated photo provided by the Colorado State Patrol shows Cpl. Daniel Groves. The state patrol officer was hit and killed by a car as he was helping another driver who had slid off of Interstate 76 northeast of Denver. (Colorado State Patrol via AP)

The window-rattling storm brought blizzards, floods and a tornado across more than 25 states Wednesday, stretching from the northern Rocky Mountains to Texas and beyond.

“This is a very epic cyclone,” said Greg Carbin, chief of forecast operations for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Weather Prediction Center. “We’re looking at something that will go down in the history books.”

Scores of motorists took refuge at truck stops in eastern Wyoming while blowing snow forced portions of major highways to close in Colorado, Nebraska and South Dakota. Meanwhile, hundreds of flights were canceled at Denver International Airport, and nearly 40 were grounded in Colorado Springs.

Bobby Larson drops into the bowl on a snowboard in Edora Park on Wednesday, March 13, 2019, in Fort Collins, Colo. (Timothy Hurst/The Coloradoan via AP)
Bobby Larson drops into the bowl on a snowboard in Edora Park on Wednesday, March 13, 2019, in Fort Collins, Colo. (Timothy Hurst/The Coloradoan via AP)

The wind-whipped storm forced schools and government offices across the state to close for the day and cut power to several hundred thousand homes and businesses. Xcel Energy spokesman Mark Stutz said zero visibility made conditions difficult for repair workers, and it could take days to restore power to everyone.

The culprit was a sudden and severe drop in ground-level air pressure in Colorado, the most pronounced dive since 1950, Carbin said. It was caused by a combination of the jet stream and normal conditions in the wind shadow of the Rockies.

Air rushed into the low-pressure area and then rose into the atmosphere.

A cross country skier travels in the snow on Wednesday, March 13, 2019, in Fort Collins, Colo. A winter storm hit the western U. (Timothy Hurst/The Coloradoan via AP)
A cross country skier travels in the snow on Wednesday, March 13, 2019, in Fort Collins, Colo. A winter storm hit the western U. (Timothy Hurst/The Coloradoan via AP)

“It’s like a vacuum cleaner, really,” Carbin said. When that much air rushes higher into the atmosphere, it causes severe weather.

Meteorologists call the rapid change in pressure a “bomb cyclone” or “bombogenesis.”

Parts of seven states were under blizzard warnings, and 20 states were under some level of high wind alert, Carbin said.

People walk a dog in the snow on Wednesday, March 13, 2019, in Fort Collins, Colo. Low air pressure is how meteorologists measure the strength of a storm, and this is the strongest in Colorado since at least 1950. (Timothy Hurst/The Coloradoan via AP)
People walk a dog in the snow on Wednesday, March 13, 2019, in Fort Collins, Colo. Low air pressure is how meteorologists measure the strength of a storm, and this is the strongest in Colorado since at least 1950. (Timothy Hurst/The Coloradoan via AP)

A tornado in New Mexico ripped roofs from buildings in the small town of Dexter, about 200 miles (320 kilometers) southwest of Albuquerque. Authorities said five people were hurt, but none of the injuries was life-threatening. A dairy euthanized about 150 cows injured by the tornado.

Chaves County Sheriff Mike Herrington said the tornado “took out” about 10 homes on one street.

High winds knocked 25 railroad freight cars off a bridge into a mostly dry riverbed near Logan in northeast New Mexico. No one was injured, New Mexico State Police said.

Vehicles stack up on the eastbound lanes of Interstate 70 near Tower Road as a late winter storm packing hurricane-force winds and snow sweeps over the intermountain West Wednesday, March 13, 2019, in Aurora, Colo. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
Vehicles stack up on the eastbound lanes of Interstate 70 near Tower Road as a late winter storm packing hurricane-force winds and snow sweeps over the intermountain West Wednesday, March 13, 2019, in Aurora, Colo. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

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A lone pedestrian struggles along Broadway as a late winter storm packing hurricane-force winds and snow sweeps over the intermountain West Wednesday, March 13, 2019, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
A lone pedestrian struggles along Broadway as a late winter storm packing hurricane-force winds and snow sweeps over the intermountain West Wednesday, March 13, 2019, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
White-out conditions along Happy Jack Road during a blizzard on Wednesday, March 13, 2019, in Cheyenne. (Jacob Byk/The Wyoming Tribune Eagle via AP)
White-out conditions along Happy Jack Road during a blizzard on Wednesday, March 13, 2019, in Cheyenne. (Jacob Byk/The Wyoming Tribune Eagle via AP)
A man walks along 17th Street during a blizzard on Wednesday, March 13, 2019, in Cheyenne. White-out conditions closed I-80, I-25, and U. (Jacob Byk/The Wyoming Tribune Eagle via AP)
A man walks along 17th Street during a blizzard on Wednesday, March 13, 2019, in Cheyenne. White-out conditions closed I-80, I-25, and U. (Jacob Byk/The Wyoming Tribune Eagle via AP)
Cones block travel on Happy Jack Road during a blizzard on Wednesday, March 13, 2019, in Cheyenne, Wyo. (Jacob Byk/The Wyoming Tribune Eagle via AP)
Cones block travel on Happy Jack Road during a blizzard on Wednesday, March 13, 2019, in Cheyenne, Wyo. (Jacob Byk/The Wyoming Tribune Eagle via AP)
A traveller drags a suitcase as a late winter storm packing hurricane-force winds and snow sweeps over the intermountain West Wednesday, March 13, 2019, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
A traveller drags a suitcase as a late winter storm packing hurricane-force winds and snow sweeps over the intermountain West Wednesday, March 13, 2019, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
Plows work on Interstate 70 as a late winter storm packing hurricane-force winds and snow sweeps over the intermountain West Wednesday, March 13, 2019, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
Plows work on Interstate 70 as a late winter storm packing hurricane-force winds and snow sweeps over the intermountain West Wednesday, March 13, 2019, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
A Jeep Compass sits in one of the eastbound lanes of Interstate 70 near Tower Road as a late winter storm packing hurricane-force winds and snow sweeps over the intermountain West and stops traffic Wednesday, March 13, 2019, in Aurora, Colo. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
A Jeep Compass sits in one of the eastbound lanes of Interstate 70 near Tower Road as a late winter storm packing hurricane-force winds and snow sweeps over the intermountain West and stops traffic Wednesday, March 13, 2019, in Aurora, Colo. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
Traffic comes to a halt on eastbound Interstate 70 near Tower Road as a late winter storm packing hurricane-force winds and snow sweeps over the intermountain West Wednesday, March 13, 2019, in Aurora, Colo. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
Traffic comes to a halt on eastbound Interstate 70 near Tower Road as a late winter storm packing hurricane-force winds and snow sweeps over the intermountain West Wednesday, March 13, 2019, in Aurora, Colo. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
High water floods a street Wednesday, March 13, 2019, in Hooper, Neb. A window-rattling late winter storm brought blizzards, floods and a tornado across more than 25 states Wednesday, stretching from the northern Rocky Mountains to Texas and beyond. (Ryan Soderlin/Omaha World-Herald via AP)
High water floods a street Wednesday, March 13, 2019, in Hooper, Neb. A window-rattling late winter storm brought blizzards, floods and a tornado across more than 25 states Wednesday, stretching from the northern Rocky Mountains to Texas and beyond. (Ryan Soderlin/Omaha World-Herald via AP)
High water floods a street Wednesday, March 13, 2019, in Hooper, Neb. A window-rattling late winter storm brought blizzards, floods and a tornado across more than 25 states Wednesday, stretching from the northern Rocky Mountains to Texas and beyond. (Ryan Soderlin/Omaha World-Herald via AP)
High water floods a street Wednesday, March 13, 2019, in Hooper, Neb. A window-rattling late winter storm brought blizzards, floods and a tornado across more than 25 states Wednesday, stretching from the northern Rocky Mountains to Texas and beyond. (Ryan Soderlin/Omaha World-Herald via AP)
High water floods a street Wednesday, March 13, 2019, in Hooper, Neb. A window-rattling late winter storm brought blizzards, floods and a tornado across more than 25 states Wednesday, stretching from the northern Rocky Mountains to Texas and beyond. (Ryan Soderlin/Omaha World-Herald via AP)
High water floods a street Wednesday, March 13, 2019, in Hooper, Neb. A window-rattling late winter storm brought blizzards, floods and a tornado across more than 25 states Wednesday, stretching from the northern Rocky Mountains to Texas and beyond. (Ryan Soderlin/Omaha World-Herald via AP)
A corn field is flooded with water Wednesday, March 13, 2019, in Ashland, Neb. A window-rattling late winter storm brought blizzards, floods and a tornado across more than 25 states Wednesday, stretching from the northern Rocky Mountains to Texas and beyond. (Ryan Soderlin/Omaha World-Herald via AP)
A corn field is flooded with water Wednesday, March 13, 2019, in Ashland, Neb. A window-rattling late winter storm brought blizzards, floods and a tornado across more than 25 states Wednesday, stretching from the northern Rocky Mountains to Texas and beyond. (Ryan Soderlin/Omaha World-Herald via AP)
The junction of Highway 275 and Highway 91 is flooded on Wednesday, March 13, 2019, in Scribner, Neb. (Ryan Soderlin/Omaha World-Herald via AP)
The junction of Highway 275 and Highway 91 is flooded on Wednesday, March 13, 2019, in Scribner, Neb. (Ryan Soderlin/Omaha World-Herald via AP)
Cody Stump walks through a flooded street Wednesday, March 13, 2019, in Hooper, Neb. A window-rattling late winter storm brought blizzards, floods and a tornado across more than 25 states Wednesday, stretching from the northern Rocky Mountains to Texas and beyond. (Ryan Soderlin/Omaha World-Herald via AP)
Cody Stump walks through a flooded street Wednesday, March 13, 2019, in Hooper, Neb. A window-rattling late winter storm brought blizzards, floods and a tornado across more than 25 states Wednesday, stretching from the northern Rocky Mountains to Texas and beyond. (Ryan Soderlin/Omaha World-Herald via AP)
Cars splash through flood water on Ames Avenue west of 66th Street Wednesday, March 13, 2019, in Omaha, Neb. (Chris Machian/Omaha World-Herald via AP)
Cars splash through flood water on Ames Avenue west of 66th Street Wednesday, March 13, 2019, in Omaha, Neb. (Chris Machian/Omaha World-Herald via AP)
A truck drives southbound through flood water on 60th Street Wednesday, March 13, 2019, in Omaha, Neb. (Chris Machian/Omaha World-Herald via AP)
A truck drives southbound through flood water on 60th Street Wednesday, March 13, 2019, in Omaha, Neb. (Chris Machian/Omaha World-Herald via AP)
Water rises on Avenue I at North 26th Street Wednesday, March 13, 2019, in Council Bluffs, Iowa. Flooding forced evacuations in northeast Nebraska and western Iowa, including a retirement home in Pierce, Neb. (Chris Machian/Omaha World-Herald via AP)
Water rises on Avenue I at North 26th Street Wednesday, March 13, 2019, in Council Bluffs, Iowa. Flooding forced evacuations in northeast Nebraska and western Iowa, including a retirement home in Pierce, Neb. (Chris Machian/Omaha World-Herald via AP)

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