Winter Storm Updates: Thousands In Weld County Still Without Power As Xcel Crews Continue Repairs
12:54 p.m. - The number of Northern Coloradans affected by power outages has now declined to 15,000. Many were left powerless overnight as Xcel Energy crews were unable to reach downed power lines. The majority of the outages are still in Weld County.
“The weather conditions up there continued to worsen over the afternoon and we were facing trucks getting stuck, neighboring farmers bringing out their tractors to try and help our trucks get out of the snow,” said Hollie Velasquez Horvath, senior director of state affairs and community relations at Xcel Energy. “And so there were many of our crews up there that were only seeing four feet ahead in front of them.”
The company expects power to be fully restored by the end of the day, she said, with more exact repair times showing up on it’s website once crews have a better assessment of all the damage.
“It was better for us to do some limited, very focused restoration (Sunday night), particularly in the center city of Greeley,” Horvath said. “And then wake up with full staff ready to go with better weather conditions today at around 6:00 a.m. to restore the remaining customers.”
Around 600 Xcel employees, contractors and workers from partner companies are in Northern Colorado to make repairs today, she said.
“With the blizzard conditions, we had distribution poles that had literally tipped over and fallen down onto the ground,” Horvath said, explaining that those repairs took a bit longer because crews had to replace poles, cross arms (which hold up wires) and the wires themselves.
Looking ahead, Xcel wants to increase customer energy bills by up to $7 for the next two years to offset extra energy purchases the company says it made to deal with cold snaps in February and this past weekend, Horvath said. Gov. Jared Polis has been pushing back on that.
“We understand that utility bills, especially at this time, are sometimes a concern for our customers. And we want to be really sensitive to that,” she said. “But we do also believe that what we did and the decisions that we made were correct and that we were able to then continue to have gas service and supply service for that time over the weekend.”
Colorado’s Public Utilities Commission is investigating the extra natural gas purchases that totaled over $1 billion across all the state’s utilities. The process could take weeks, but Horvath said Xcel hopes that the PUC will “understand and agree that we were being responsible and that we will be able to recover that cost from our customers.”
9:45 a.m. - All runways at Denver International Airport will remain closed until 2 p.m. today. The airport's five runways were shut down Sunday after high winds and blowing snow made travel impossible. DIA received 27.1 inches of snow over the weekend.
All runways will remain closed until 2 p.m. today - no flights will arrive or depart before that time while crews continue to treat the airfield for ice and snow. If you’re scheduled to fly into or out of DEN today, check your flight status with your airline pic.twitter.com/I5z4Kt9jii— Denver Int'l Airport (@DENAirport) March 15, 2021
11:25 p.m. - The Colorado Department of Transportation and Colorado State Patrol are asking drivers to be patient as this dangerous winter storm wears on. High winds and blowing snow continue to cause low visibility. Hazardous travel conditions will continue through the night into Monday morning.
CDOT snow removal crews are continuing to clear heavy snowfall on primary routes like interstates and highways. Secondary routes, like neighborhoods and side streets, may continue to see snow packed roads until late Monday morning.
Officials are still urging Coloradans to check COtrip.org for an up to date closure list.
The State of Colorado has announces offices in Denver and surrounding counties will be closed on Monday to help keep commuters out of the extreme weather conditions.
Xcel Energy reports more than 26,000 customers are still impacted by power outages.
10:07 p.m. - Despite making great strides in reducing power outages for many throughout the day, the number of Xcel Energy customers affected by power outages in Northern Colorado grew again to more than 29,000 after 9 p.m. on Sunday. The majority of the outages are still in Weld County.
Blizzard conditions will likely keep crews from making repairs overnight, the power company said, meaning many could be without power until "sometime tomorrow."
Less than 50 customers of Fort Collins Electric were affected by three outages in the city, a spokesperson the utility provider said in an email to KUNC. FCE primarily delvers power through an underground system, so snow typically doesn't lead to outages.
The Red Cross has opened several Evacuation and Warming Centers in Larimer, Morgan and El Paso Counties. As more locations open, the organization will put an updated list on its website.
5:42 p.m. - Blizzard conditions are expected to continue into the evening across the Front Range, according to the National Weather Service, dumping several more inches of snow.
As of 4:45 p.m., some areas of Boulder County received more than 30 inches of the wet, heavy snow, Larimer got a 28-inch high and Weld got 18.
“For the most part, road conditions are treacherous,” said Tamara Rollison, Colorado Department of Transportation spokesperson. “We are urging motorists to stay put, stay at home, stay off the roads until the storm is passed. It will be a rough commute and we advise motorists if they can telework, tomorrow would be a good day to telework.”
The road closures across Colorado have slightly increased, particularly along the eastern part of I-70 and US 34 in Morgan County. CDOT is updating its website with new closures and general road conditions regularly.
Hundreds of CDOT employees have been plowing roads all day and will continue through the night, but they’ve been focusing on interstates and major state routes, Rollison said. More time will be needed on Monday morning to get to other roadways.
“Delay your commute in the morning if you have to go into the office, delay as much as you possibly can, give yourself extra time, triple time to get to your office,” she said.
Forecasts show the storm will likely be over in the Front Range by Monday morning, according to NWS meteorologist Zach Hiris. The biggest challenge once that happens will be getting people safely out of their driveways, he said.
“The rest of the week looks fairly quiet and we kind of have a drying trend and a warming trend towards next weekend,” Hiris said. “Maybe a hint of a storm signal there by next weekend, but otherwise it's going to be pretty quiet.”
Power continues to be restored across Northern Colorado. More than 28,000 people across Colorado are still experiencing outage effects, according to Xcel Energy. Most are still in Weld and Larimer counties, but the numbers are lower than earlier this afternoon.
1:56 p.m. - The National Weather Service in Boulder issued a blizzard warning for the I-25 corridor. Forecasters expect an extra 2 to 6 inches of snow and wind as fast as 45 miles per hour in some areas, creating “nearly impossible travel conditions.”
“The roads are going to be snow-covered, the visibility is going to be poor. Probably a good idea to stay home and wait the snow out,” said NWS meteorologist Zach Hiris.
The Red Cross is opening several Evacuation and Warming Centers in Larimer, Morgan and El Paso Counties. As more locations open throughout the day, the organization will put an updated list on its website.
As the heavy, wet snow topples tree branches and sends vehicles swerving, more than 30,000 Northern Coloradans have been affected by power outages, according to Xcel Energy. The number of outages statewide has declined slightly since this morning.
The majority of outages are in Weld County, with more than 9,000 affected in Greeley alone.
“There's another significant outage that we have up in the Greeley/Fort Collins area where a car veered off the side of one of the highways and hit one of our transmission lines,” said Hollie Velasquez Horvath, senior director of state affairs and community relations at Xcel Energy. “If we can repair that transmission line, that will have a huge impact on restoration for quite a number of customers.”
The cause of the outages are split “50-50,” Horvath said, between the heavy, wet snow itself and tree branches downing lines. Fixing the car-damaged transmission line will likely take more time than most other repairs, she said, and efforts are already slowed down by the dangerous road conditions.
More than 450 Xcel employees and contractors are out in Greeley, Loveland and Fort Collins attempting to restore power, Horvath said. The company is working to find more workers and collaborate with other utility providers to share manpower and other resources. The company expects the number of outages in Northern Colorado to continue declining throughout the day, but climb in Denver as the storm moves.
“We'll bring on another set of crews after a 16-hour, 14-hour time,” she said. “And we will continue to work overnight.”
She asks anyone experiencing a power outage to report it to the company immediately by filling out an online form.
Officials are asking Coloradans to be careful as snow piles up across the Front Range, increasing the risk of cars getting stuck or into an accident on the road.
“The biggest concern for the day is to keep everybody safe. We want to keep motorists safe. We want to keep our plow drivers safe, and for everybody to respect the snowstorm. By that I mean stay home,” said Tamara Rollison, spokesperson with the Colorado Department of Transportation.
CDOT has closed several portions of I-70 as well as CO 152 and 105. Updates and detailed closures are posted on CDOT’s website.
“Don't go out if you do have to go out. It is absolutely essential that you are prepared for it,” Rollison said.
CDOT strongly recommends safety precautions for those who still need to take to the roads, like having the “appropriate tires with good tread” and “an emergency kit with blankets, food, batteries, water, a shovel and survival supplies.”
Police departments in several municipalities, including Fort Collins and Greeley, are on "accident alert," meaning drivers should exchange information after an accident and report it online instead of calling 911 unless someone has been injured or alcohol is involved.
A Fort Collins Police spokesperson told KUNC the department would not be able to provide the number of accidents already reported today until later this week.
Avalanche conditions are high throughout Colorado during this weekend's snow storm and in the aftermath. From roof avalanches in urban areas to avalanche conditions in the backcountry, officials are concerned. All you need for an avalanche is deep snow and an inclined slope, said Brian Lazar with the Colorado Avalanche Information Center.
Avalanche warnings are currently highest along the Western Front Range, warnings are updated on the CAIC website.
“It's going to be very easy to trigger avalanches big enough to bury or kill a person,” Lazar said, adding that people need to keep an eye on children playing near homes or other buildings because they will be at increased risk of roof avalanches after the storm ends.
9:51 a.m. - Xcel Energy is reporting tens of thousands of power outages in Northern Colorado, mainly in Greeley.
7:45 a.m. - Snow has continued along the northern Front Range and in the high country since about noon on Saturday. Xcel Energy is reporting about 5,800 customers without power — those outages are mainly in Greeley and Fort Collins. The wet heavy snow is causing tree limbs to snap and damaging power lines.
I-25 is closed between Wellington and the Wyoming Border. I-70 is closed both directions from Limon to Burlington, and CO Hwy 71 both directions from Brush to the Nebraska border.
Colorado Department of Transportation crews will use large plows to address main streets and small plows will be deployed to residential streets.
Plow operators will make consecutive passes and drop de-icing materials on main streets. C-DOT is asking resident to avoid the roads as much a possible today.
As of 6 a.m. Sunday, the National Weather Service office in Boulder said Denver International Airport had received 11.1 inches of snow.
6:00 p.m. - More than 2,000 flights have been canceled over the weekend at Denver International Airport as a major snowstorm strikes the region.
The National Weather Service has issued a winter storm warning, saying it expects 18 to 24 inches of heavy, wet snow to fall in Denver and Boulder from Saturday afternoon through Sunday night. Some areas along the Front Range foothills were expected to receive up to 30 inches.
The Colorado Department of Transportation warned that road closures are highly likely and asked people not to make unnecessary trips. The highways most likely to be affected included I-25 from Colorado Springs to Wyoming, including Denver and Monument Hill, I-70 to Limon, and I-76 to Ft. Morgan, the department said.
Denver International had a busy morning Saturday with passengers trying to beat the storm, but about 750 flights later in the day were canceled, airport spokeswoman Emily Williams said. Just about all Sunday flights had been canceled as well — nearly 1,300.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.