Blizzard slams Vail, Denver area
Associated Press Writer
Vail, CO Colorado
EAGLE COUNTY ” Airlines canceled hundreds of flights at the Denver airport Thursday, schools shut down and snowplows patrolled Colorado highways as a major spring snowstorm threatened to turn into a blizzard across nearly half the state.
Snow was falling at up to 2 inches an hour, and by midday up to 9 inches had accumulated at the base of the foothills west of Denver.
Denver and most of the eastern half of the state were under a blizzard warning. Most of the rest of the state was under a winter storm warning.
About 10 miles of heavily traveled U.S. 36 was closed in both directions from the northwest Denver suburbs to Boulder because of accidents and unsafe conditions. Weather-related accidents caused traffic backups on other freeways in the Denver area.
Interstate 25 was closed from the northern Colorado town of Wellington to the Wyoming border 20 miles away.
“I saw three flipped cars,” said Zachary Whitaker, who spent four hours driving his grandmother to the Denver airport from Gering, Neb. “Five more run off the road. Cars in ditches all over.”
Forecasters predicted up to 16 inches of snow in Denver by Friday with gusts up to 40 mph. More than a foot of snow is expected in the foothills west of Denver.
Snow on the Eastern Plains is expected to range from 6 to 15 inches, with gusts up to 45 mph.
At Denver International Airport, the terminal was thick with stranded travelers standing before monitors reeling off dozens of “CANCELED” alerts. There was no word on when flights would resume.
The storm ruined spring break travel for many.
“I’m trying to go visit my granddaughter,” fretted Peggy Johnson of Morrison. Johnson’s flight to Missoula, Mont..
It could be the heaviest snow to hit Denver and other cities at the eastern edge of the mountains since December 2007, when three successive storms dumped a total of more than 30 inches.
The spring blizzard was welcome news for some. Dry conditions across the state this year have led to repeated brush fires and fire warnings. Last week, 20 homes in Grand Junction, about 200 miles west of Denver, were evacuated for a brush fire that hit 40 acres, though no structures were damaged.
“It’s been very dry this year, especially on the Eastern Plains,” said National Weather Service meteorologist Scott Entrekin in Boulder. “Snowfall this winter has been near record lows, so every little bit here helps for our water supply this summer.”
Snow was already piled high Thursday morning west of the Continental Divide. Colorado Department of Transportation workers said icy conditions on Interstate 70 extended from the mountains west to the Utah border.
“We’ve got at least 8 inches out there so far,” said Naomi Ritter of Breckenridge, a self-described “doughnut lady” at Daylight Donuts. Ritter said the snow was heaviest before dawn but had stopped before 9 a.m.
Dozens of school districts called off classes Thursday; others were closed for spring break. The University of Colorado in Boulder and Colorado State University in Fort Collins shut down early.
At the state Capitol in Denver, political fights turned into snowball fights. Lawmakers in the House challenged their counterparts in the Senate to a battle on the statehouse lawn later in the day.
Associated Press Writers Steven K. Paulson and Don Mitchell contributed to this report.