Colorado Wakes Up To Effects Of Spring Storm

Apr 10, 2019

Blizzard warnings were posted from Colorado to Minnesota on Wednesday as the second so-called "bomb cyclone" storm in less than a month hit the central U.S. 

Update at 9:30 a.m. Thursday

Interstate 70 has reopened in northeast Colorado, but slick areas still persist.

Colorado Department of Transportation crews are still working to reopen more than 100 miles of Interstate 76 from near Denver to the Nebraska border.

The National Weather Service says 9 inches fell in the Fort Collins area and about 3 inches in the Denver metro area. Around a foot was recorded in the mountains.

A Colorado State Patrol trooper was injured in Montezuma County about 3:30 p.m. Wednesday. The trooper was investigating an accident on U.S. 160 when his patrol car was hit from behind. Snow had caused dangerous travel conditions. 

Update at 6:00 a.m. Thursday

The winter weather advisory has been lifted for the Front Range, but a winter storm warning continues for the Central Mountains until this afternoon.

Colorado Department Of Transportation officials say road conditions remain snow-packed and icy for the morning commute.

"Give those plows room to operate," says CDOT's director of highway maintenance Kyle Lester. "Everybody back off. If you're on the road, stay away from the plow echelon."

The northeastern plains are still at risk for blizzard conditions. I-76 near the Nebraska state line remains closed Thursday morning.

Power has been restored to many along the Front Range, although more than 100 Xcel customers around Denver woke up Thursday still without power.

Denver International Airport says more than 180 flights have been cancelled for Thursday morning, but DIA expects operations to return to normal by this afternoon.

The original story continues below.

Spring Storm Hitting Colorado

Blizzard conditions are expected Wednesday afternoon continuing into Thursday along the northern Front Range and in the Central Mountains.

National Weather Service meteorologist Natalie Sullivan said snow and wind will be the heaviest from 3 p.m. to 9 p.m. between Denver and Fort Collins.

As far as spring conditions returning, "there will be a slight warm-up Sunday, then there could be another system coming through," Sullivan said. "So, it's going to be just stay warm, stay safe for this one, then stay tuned for what's coming next.”

Wind gusts are expected around 50 mph, visibility will be poor this afternoon through the evening. The Front Range can expect anywhere from three to five inches of snow by the end of the day.

Cancellations And Closures

By 1 p.m. Wednesday, more than 100 flights had been cancelled at Denver International Airport for and at least 150 flights have been cancelled for Thursday. The airport urges passengers to check flight status before they head to the airport.

The looming spring blizzard in the Rockies was impacting school classes, government functions and even baseball.

Major League Baseball's Colorado Rockies postponed an afternoon game against the Atlanta Braves until August. A few school districts in Colorado and Wyoming canceled classes, while others opted for a shortened day and canceled evening activities.

Local governments, including in Denver and Cheyenne, Wyoming, and state government in the Denver area closed offices early to give workers time to commute before conditions worsened.

What's Expected For The Midwest

Heavy snow began disrupting ground and air travel Wednesday afternoon. Roads became impassable and visibility was down to a few feet in northeastern South Dakota due to snowfall of up to 11 inches.

Up to 2 ½ feet of snow was expected to fall in parts of eastern South Dakota and southwestern Minnesota, the National Weather Service said. Winds in excess of 50 mph also were expected, creating life-threatening conditions.

"We're calling it historic because of the widespread heavy snow. We will set some records," said Mike Connelly, a weather service meteorologist in Aberdeen, South Dakota.

Transportation officials closed Interstate 29 from east central South Dakota to the North Dakota border and said other stretches of major interstates were likely to close later as conditions deteriorated. Numerous traffic crashes were reported in northeastern South Dakota, though there were no immediate reports of serious injuries. Transportation officials in Colorado said highway closures also were likely in that state.

An unusual but not rare weather phenomenon known as "thunder snow" — snow accompanied by thunder and lightning — was reported in central South Dakota.

"It's essentially a thunderstorm, but it's cold enough for snow," Connelly said.

South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem closed state government offices in 52 counties. Numerous schools around the state closed, along with several Black Hills National Forest offices in western South Dakota and eastern Wyoming. Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz said "the National Guard stands ready" to rescue any stranded motorists.

The weather service posted an ice storm warning into Friday morning for a portion of southern Minnesota, saying up to three-fourths of an inch of ice could accumulate on power lines, leading to outages.

High Wind Warnings For Texas And Oklahoma

Strong winds associated with the weather system were creating dangerous wildfire and travel conditions in New Mexico, Texas and Oklahoma. The weather service issued a high wind warning for the Texas and Oklahoma panhandles.

Winds in excess of 50 mph were combining with low humidity and an unstable atmosphere to create critical fire conditions in the three states. Forecasters in New Mexico said the winds also would make travel difficult on north-south oriented roads such as Interstate 25. In southern New Mexico, the U.S. Army's White Sands Missile Range closed Wednesday because of the high winds.

The storm technically met the scientific definition of what's commonly known as a "bomb cyclone," said David Roth, a forecaster at the National Weather Service's Weather Prediction Center in Maryland.

The weather phenomenon with a complex scientific definition essentially entails a rapid drop in air pressure and a storm strengthening explosively. What is more important than the term is the storm's impacts, which are likely to be similar to last month's storm, Roth said.

That blast dropped heavy snow and led to massive flooding in the Midwest that caused billions of dollars in damage in Nebraska, Missouri, Iowa and South Dakota.

"Hopefully this time it will be a slow snowmelt," Roth said.

Forecasters said this week's storm will swell rivers again, though likely not to the levels seen last month due to the absence of a wet snowpack on frozen ground this time around.

"We're not out of the woods," Walz said.

Even moderate rises in the Missouri River will push more water into drenched Fremont County in southwestern Iowa, Emergency Manager Mike Crecelius said. Last month's flooding swamped 455 houses and thousands of acres of farmland in his region.

"The problem is that we're not getting any time for the water to recede and things to dry out, so the levees can't be fixed; houses can't be fixed; crops can't be planted," he said. "And the last spring forecast I saw does not look favorable for us at all. It looks to be a very wet spring."

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