Friday, February 3, 2012
A powerful winter storm swept across Colorado on Friday as it headed east, bringing blizzard warnings to eastern Colorado and western Kansas, and winter storm warnings for southeast Wyoming and western Nebraska.
The storm stretched as far south as New Mexico, where Department of Transportation reported difficult driving conditions on several state highways because of the winter weather, leaving highways snow packed and icy.
The Colorado Avalanche Information Center issued a warning through Friday east of the Continental Divide, saying 2 feet of snow or more could overwhelm a weak snow pack, with natural and human-triggered avalanches likely Friday.
The storm forced the cancellation of more than 600 arriving and departing flights at the Denver airport that had been scheduled through Friday night. That's about 35 percent of its average daily operations of 1,700 flights.
Southwest Airlines canceled all its flights through 4 p.m. Friday at Denver International Airport because of the storm. The airline said it wanted to mitigate the impact of the storm on its operations elsewhere across the country.
The Colorado Department of Transportation closed portions of Interstate 70 east of Denver International Airport to Limon, stranding truckers. Interstate 25 north and south reopened after numerous accidents were cleared.
The National Weather Service said snow was falling at 2 inches an hour on the Eastern Plains, producing some blizzard conditions.
Kristine Staaf, spokeswoman for Safeway grocery stores, said shoppers began clearing the shelves of staples on Thursday, hours
in advance of the storm.
"They were coming in droves for staples -- milk, eggs and bread," she said. Staaf said most stores were restocked by Friday morning, except for stores on the Eastern Plains.
The University of Colorado closed its Boulder campus, affecting about 30,000 students.
Colorado State Patrol spokesman Josh Lewis said non-essential staffers were told to come in at 10 a.m. and Gov. John Hickenlooper told state workers in the Denver metro area to stay home until 10 a.m. unless their jobs involved health and safety.
Cindy Williams, who was staffing the desk at the Travel Centers of America truck stop about 80 miles west of the Kansas border Friday morning, said the parking lot was filling up because of road closures.
"There's nowhere to go," she said.
One of the largest snow totals Friday morning was 2 feet in Pinecliff west of Denver, and snow totals were mounting rapidly along the Front Range and eastern Colorado, where 10 inches fell in Denver and 14 inches in Boulder.
Jim Kalina of the National Weather Service said another foot of snow was expected in some areas along the Front Range before the storm moves out on Saturday.
The weather service said the snow will be moderate at times on Friday in Wyoming and Nebraska. However, winds could gust up to 35
mph and produce blowing snow from the southern Laramie Range to
Cities in the Front Range urban corridor from Colorado Springs, Colo., in the south to Fort Collins, Colo., and Greeley, Colo., in the north were under a winter storm warning.
The storm warnings prompted shoppers to stock up on food and liquor, while Colorado lawmakers canceled legislative work on Friday.
Stores in Denver reported brisk business Thursday night.
"The cheese wall is hammered, bread's kind of hammered, milk's kind of low," said Aaron McFadden, a manager at a King Soopers store.
Ted Vaca at Argonaut Liquor said customers were snapping up all kinds of drink.
"It was more like a Friday than a Thursday," he said.
A Learjet ran off a runway at the Pueblo, Colo., airport as the storm moved in, but investigators hadn't determined if the weather was a factor. None of the 10 people aboard was injured, the Federal Aviation Administration said.
Many school districts announced they would be closed on Friday, including the two largest, in Jefferson County and Denver.