Heavy Snow Pummels West Central United States, Forces Road Closures

Up to 30 inches of snow was forecast to drop in parts of the Black Hills region of western South Dakota from the storm, the National Weather Service said. “It’s not normal this time of year, but it is not unheard of,” said Cory Martin, meteorologist for the National Weather Service in North Platte, Nebraska. “But this amount of snow for an October storm is on the higher end.” Heavy rain, golf-ball sized hail and winds of 60 to 70 miles per hour were forecast later Friday in Oklahoma along with severe storms in Kansas, the National Weather Service said. The National Weather Service, which is running on a reduced staff because of the federal government shutdown, issued blizzard and severe winter storm warnings across the Upper Plains through Saturday morning. The Black Hills of South Dakota had seen up to 19.5 inches of snow on Friday morning and up to 10 inches had fallen in Wyoming, the National Weather Service said. The heavy snow had caused some power outages in the Casper, Wyoming area. South Dakota Governor Dennis Daugaard ordered state offices closed in the Black Hills and six counties in the southwestern part of the state and said further closures are possible. Interstate 90 was closed for about a 220 mile stretch from Sturgis, South Dakota, to Sheridan in northeastern Wyoming, according to transportation departments in both states. The National Weather Service was forecasting from 8 to 18 inches of snow in northeast Wyoming and the western South Dakota plains, and 18-30 inches in the highest regions of the Black Hills and up to a foot of snow in Nebraska. (Additional reporting by Heide Brandes; Editing by David Bailey and Diane Craft)

United States to fly long-range drones from Japanese base

Officials in Beijing had criticised Tokyo in recent days over reports that the Japanese military was considering acquiring its own Global Hawks, saying the move could escalate tensions. China is also engaged in a bitter territorial dispute with Japan over the Senkaku Islands, an uninhabited group of outcroppings in the East China Sea that Japan nationalised last year, sparking confrontations between the two countries ships deployed in the area. Besides flying missions over North Korea, the Global Hawks would presumably give the United States and Japan better information about the movements of Chinese ships in the vicinity of Senkaku. The same goes for Chinese ships elsewhere in the region, such as the South China Sea, where China is mired in territorial disputes with the Philippines, Vietnam, Thailand and other countries. The US military has flown drones over Japan in the past on a temporary basis, including after the 2011 earthquake and tsunami, but next year will mark the first time it will base them in that country, according to US officials. They said the drones would be deployed on a rotational basis, meaning they could be moved elsewhere, such as Guam, for months at a time. In addition to the Global Hawks, P-8 maritime surveillance patrol aircraft will also start to be deployed in Japan in December, US and Japanese officials announced. It would be the first time the aircraft will be stationed outside the United States. The cutting-edge capabilities of the P-8, which I saw demonstrated last summer, will greatly enhance the allies ability to conduct surveillance, particularly over the open seas, Hagel said at a joint news conference with Kerry, Japanese Defence Minister Itsunori Onodera and Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida. US President Barack Obama’s administration has made a point of stressing its ties to the Pacific region and showing up for Asian events as part of its pivot to Asia policy. The joint US Cabinet visit went ahead despite the government shutdown that led President Obama to curtail his own planned trip to Asia next week. Kerry will fill in for Obama for visits to Malaysia and the Philippines. The security measures announced Thursday should give both Japan and the United States greater protection and better intelligence about the activities of North Korea and China, one an adversary and the other a wary partner and sometime competitor. There are different threats and different kinds of threats, Kerry said at the start of the joint session on Thursday. So it is important for us to recognise that this bilateral alliance remains a vital element of our respective national security strategies. In addition to the drones and the P-8 maritime patrol aircraft, Japan and the United States announced that a new antiballistic radar station would be built in Kyogamisaki, in southern Japan, and become operational sometime in the next year.