Winter storm cancels thousands of flights, closes major interstates

The biggest storm of the winter season for the western United States took shape over the weekend, which sparked winter storm warnings, blizzard warnings and even activated the Colorado National Guard.

Winter storm warnings were plastered across southeastern parts of Wyoming and northern Colorado, and winter storm watches extended farther east across southwestern South Dakota and western Nebraska on Friday. An avalanche watch was also posted for the Front Range mountains in Colorado.

The National Weather Service office in Cheyenne, Wyoming, warned in a tweet that the snowstorm would be “VERY impactful” and “possibly historic” and later tweeted “be sure to protect your newborn livestock!”

At 9 a.m. MDT on Sunday, 21.5 inches of snow was reported just north of Cheyenne, Wyoming.

Colorado Gov. Jared Polis announced that he activated the Colorado National Guard to respond to search-and-rescue requests through the state’s Emergency Operations Center from noon Friday until noon Monday.

“I urge you to stay home if it’s going to snow hard in your area, so you don’t need them to rescue you,” Polis said. Colorado State Patrol echoed that motorists should stay off of the roads amid what a trooper referred to as “Snowmaggedon” or “Snowpocalypse” in a video recorded and sent out on Twitter.

Denver International Airport’s fleet of snow-removal vehicles prepared early, so they could take on the snow as soon as it arrived.

“The good news is that snow in Denver is not unusual, maybe this much is, but we plan all year for big storms,” The Denver International Airport Spokesperson, Emily Williams, said.

Despite preparations, travelers scrambled to make new plans when more than 2,000 flights were canceled for the airport between Saturday and Sunday.

By 8 p.m. MST on Saturday, the snow was already starting to pile up. Weston Pass, Col., reported 9 inches of snow accumulation, while other parts of the state reported around 2 to 6 inches.

Portions of I-25, I-70, I-76 and I-80 were shut down as a result of the treacherous travel conditions on Saturday night.

Conditions on I-70 began to get “treacherous,” around 7 p.m., local time. Colorado State Patrol announced a westbound closure at C-470 mile post 260, with all traffic being diverted east on Colorado 470. A full closure is in effect in both directions from Silverthorne, mp 205 and Denver Metro Area.

Along I-25, The National Weather Service in Boulder reported that roads were getting “slushy.”

Conditions also deteriorated quickly Saturday afternoon in the neighboring state of Wyoming, where the southeastern portion of the state is forecast to receive some of the worst conditions the storm has to offer.

Blizzard warnings were in effect from Saturday night to early Monday morning across much of southeastern Wyoming, along with portions of Nebraska and South Dakota.

As heavy snow fell and strong winds roared across southeastern Wyoming Saturday night, long stretches of interstates 25 and 80 were shut down with no estimated time frame to reopen.

Traffic cameras in the area all showed the same scene: roadways covered with so much snow that they became indistinguishable from the surrounding ground.

Two images captured from the same traffic camera just south of Cheyenne, Wyoming, show how rapidly conditions worsened Saturday night. WYDOT Travel Information Service

On Sunday morning, I-25 was closed north of Fort Collins, Col., near Wellington, to the Colorado and Wyoming border. At 8:42 a.m. MDT on Sunday, a report showed up to 18.8 inches of snow had fallen in Wellington so far.

The dangerous winter conditions also sparked power outages on Sunday morning with more than 33,000 customers left in the dark without power.

“We just received a report from a caller in Wellington who said 10-inch- diameter trees were snapped in his neighborhood and power lines are laying on the ground. Roughly 14 inches of snow is on the ground,” NWS Boulder tweeted.

As the storm pulls away later Sunday and Sunday night, winds from the northwest are expected to increase and may lead to more widespread blowing and drifting snow in Colorado.

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