A window-rattling late winter storm brought blizzards, high winds, rain or floods to 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.”

It could develop into the worst storm of its type in 35 or 40 years, he said.

A motorist clears the windows of her vehicle 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 motorist clears the windows of her vehicle 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)

Blowing snow forced major highways to close in Colorado, Nebraska, South Dakota and Wyoming. About 1,000 flights were canceled at Denver International Airport, and nearly 40 more were canceled at Colorado Springs.

“It caught me completely off guard,” said Sarah Brin of Santa Fe, New Mexico, who was stranded at the Denver airport. It was supposed to be a brief layover on her flight home from the South by Southwest Film Festival in Austin, Texas, but it turned into an overnight stay.

She booked a room in a downtown hotel and reserved a spot on a shuttle van. But some shuttle trips were canceled because of the weather.

Shoppers struggle to head to their vehicles outside a grocery store 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)
Shoppers struggle to head to their vehicles outside a grocery store 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)

“We’ll see if they actually show up,” she said.

Many schools and government offices closed for the day. Xcel Energy reported more than 200,000 customers lost electricity in the Denver area.

Severe thunderstorms in North Texas damaged buildings and flipped over small planes parked at an airport.

Shoppers struggle to make their ways back to the vehicles outside a grocery store 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)
Shoppers struggle to make their ways back to the vehicles outside a grocery store 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)

Nebraska was bracing for heavy rains.

Flooding forced evacuations in northeast Nebraska and western Iowa, including the Pierce Manor retirement home in Pierce, Nebraska. Residents of Avoca, Iowa, were filling sandbags to keep floodwaters from spreading, and the American Red Cross set up a shelter for anyone who was displaced.

Parts of seven states were under blizzard warnings, and 20 states were under some level of high wind alert, Carbin said. Tornadoes were possible on the storm’s eastern edge.

Kelly Walsh High School student Riley Dennis, 15, shovels snow from the sidewalk Wednesday, March 13, 2019 during a winter storm in Casper, Wyo. (Josh Galemore/The Casper Star-Tribune via AP)
Kelly Walsh High School student Riley Dennis, 15, shovels snow from the sidewalk Wednesday, March 13, 2019 during a winter storm in Casper, Wyo. (Josh Galemore/The Casper Star-Tribune via AP)

In New Mexico, high winds knocked 25 railroad freight cars off a bridge into a mostly dry riverbed near Logan, about 184 miles (295 kilometers) east of Albuquerque. No one was injured, the New Mexico State Police said.

A wind gust of 92 mph (148 kph) was recorded in the mountains northwest of Denver.

The storm was expected to drop up to 22 inches (56 centimeters) of snow in Wyoming, 14 inches (36 centimeters) in South Dakota and a foot (31 centimeters) in Colorado.

A person works on clearing snow during a winter storm Wednesday morning, March 13, 2019 in Casper, Wyo. (Josh Galemore/The Casper Star-Tribune via AP)
A person works on clearing snow during a winter storm Wednesday morning, March 13, 2019 in Casper, Wyo. (Josh Galemore/The Casper Star-Tribune via AP)

Forecasters said the winds would pile up snow into deep drifts. In the Denver suburb of Thornton, drivers were abandoning their vehicles in snow-clogged streets, police said.

The storm could last through Friday.

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.

Joe Miller's beard freezes over as he walks through downtown Casper, Wyo., during a winter storm Wednesday, March 13, 2019. (Josh Galemore/The Casper Star-Tribune via AP)
Joe Miller’s beard freezes over as he walks through downtown Casper, Wyo., during a winter storm Wednesday, March 13, 2019. (Josh Galemore/The Casper Star-Tribune via AP)

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

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

___

Maintenance supervisor Dan Leach frees storm drains of ice and snow at Episcopal Church Homes in St. Paul, Minn. (Scott Takushi/Pioneer Press via AP)
Maintenance supervisor Dan Leach frees storm drains of ice and snow at Episcopal Church Homes in St. Paul, Minn. (Scott Takushi/Pioneer Press via AP)
A snow plow rumbles north on Capitol Avenue during a blizzard on Wednesday, March 13, 2019, in Cheyenne, Wyo. (Jacob Byk/The Wyoming Tribune Eagle via AP)
A snow plow rumbles north on Capitol Avenue during a blizzard on Wednesday, March 13, 2019, in Cheyenne, Wyo. (Jacob Byk/The Wyoming Tribune Eagle via AP)
Ryan Bredensteiner of Top Flight Maintenance shovels Central Avenue during a blizzard on Wednesday, March 13, 2019, in Cheyenne. (Jacob Byk/The Wyoming Tribune Eagle via AP)
Ryan Bredensteiner of Top Flight Maintenance shovels Central Avenue during a blizzard on Wednesday, March 13, 2019, in Cheyenne. (Jacob Byk/The Wyoming Tribune Eagle via AP)
Tom Skaar of Cheyenne laughs while walking his dogs on House Avenue during a blizzard on Wednesday, March 13, 2019, in Cheyenne, Wyo. (Jacob Byk/The Wyoming Tribune Eagle via AP)
Tom Skaar of Cheyenne laughs while walking his dogs on House Avenue during a blizzard on Wednesday, March 13, 2019, in Cheyenne, Wyo. (Jacob Byk/The Wyoming Tribune Eagle via AP)
James Little closes his eyes against blowing snow during a blizzard on Wednesday, March 13, 2019, in Cheyenne, Wyo. (Jacob Byk/The Wyoming Tribune Eagle via AP)
James Little closes his eyes against blowing snow during a blizzard on Wednesday, March 13, 2019, in Cheyenne, Wyo. (Jacob Byk/The Wyoming Tribune Eagle via AP)
A sign tells shoppers that a craft store is closed 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 sign tells shoppers that a craft store is closed 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)
Neil Alderson, executive director of the Schlessman YMCA, moves snow for patrons 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)
Neil Alderson, executive director of the Schlessman YMCA, moves snow for patrons 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 road starts to flood near Canton, S.D. and the Iowa boarder, Wednesday, March 13, 2019.  (Loren Townsley/The Argus Leader via AP)
A road starts to flood near Canton, S.D. and the Iowa boarder, Wednesday, March 13, 2019. (Loren Townsley/The Argus Leader via AP)
Matt Bue pumps water from his alley to the street in Eau Claire, Wis., on Wednesday, March 13, 2019. The high water was filling his garage along Vine Street. (Dan Reiland/The Eau Claire Leader-Telegram via AP)
Matt Bue pumps water from his alley to the street in Eau Claire, Wis., on Wednesday, March 13, 2019. The high water was filling his garage along Vine Street. (Dan Reiland/The Eau Claire Leader-Telegram via AP)
University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire student Kaylee Stuttgen of Fall Creek, WIis. steadies herself through ice and puddles as she walks along Garfield Ave. (Dan Reiland/The Eau Claire Leader-Telegram via AP)
University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire student Kaylee Stuttgen of Fall Creek, WIis. steadies herself through ice and puddles as she walks along Garfield Ave. (Dan Reiland/The Eau Claire Leader-Telegram via AP)
James Little closes his eyes against blowing snow during a blizzard on Wednesday, March 13, 2019, in Cheyenne, Wyo. (Jacob Byk/The Wyoming Tribune Eagle via AP)
James Little closes his eyes against blowing snow during a blizzard on Wednesday, March 13, 2019, in Cheyenne, Wyo. (Jacob Byk/The Wyoming Tribune Eagle via AP)
A sign tells shoppers that a craft store is closed 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 sign tells shoppers that a craft store is closed 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)
Neil Alderson, executive director of the Schlessman YMCA, moves snow for patrons 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)
Neil Alderson, executive director of the Schlessman YMCA, moves snow for patrons 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)
Shoppers struggle to head to their vehicles outside a grocery store 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)
Shoppers struggle to head to their vehicles outside a grocery store 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)

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