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Colorado snowstorm knocks out power for thousands

Shopping carts topped with heavy snow sit marooned in the lot of a grocery store as a late winter storm dropped up to a foot of snow Thursday, March 14, 2024, in Golden, Colo.
David Zalubowski
/
AP
Shopping carts topped with heavy snow sit marooned in the lot of a grocery store as a late winter storm dropped up to a foot of snow Thursday, March 14, 2024, in Golden, Colo.

DENVER — A major storm dumped heavy snow in Colorado on Thursday – forcing flight cancellations and shutting down a highway that connects Denver to Colorado ski resorts for much of the day, stranding some people in their cars for hours.

The storm comes as other parts of the country face severe weather. Massive chunks of hail pelted parts of Kansas and Missouri on Wednesday night, with storms unleashing possible tornadoes in Kansas. Earlier this month, a blizzard dumped more than 10 feet (3 meters) of snow on a northern California ski resort.

The Colorado storm, which began Wednesday night, delivered the slushy, wet snow typical for March, one of the snowiest months in Denver, and wasn't expected to wind down until Friday morning. The heaviest accumulations were expected in Colorado's Front Range region, where the eastern plains meet the Rocky Mountains and the vast majority of the state's population lives. Most of the snow was falling in the foothills west of Denver.

Those higher elevations had up to 3 feet (1 meter) of snow by Thursday and more than another foot was forecast by Friday morning. Denver itself got up to about 9 inches (23 centimeters) by Thursday. Up to another 10 inches were expected in the Denver area.

A mountain stretch of Interstate 70, the state's main east-west highway, closed as the storm moved in Wednesday night. Trucks, many without the tire chains required to travel the route, got stuck and blocked other vehicles from getting through for hours. The big rigs were towed out by the afternoon, said Sgt. Patrick Rice of the Colorado State Patrol.

Some drivers may have been stranded until I-70 reopened, he said, but no injuries were reported. The highway remains closed to trucks through noon Friday and could shut to passenger vehicles too as the storm picks up. Rice urged any drivers setting out to bring food and blankets in case they get trapped.

"We're going to continue to work at this and keep the road open the best we can," said Matt Inzeo, a spokesperson for the Colorado Department of Transportation.

While a boon to Colorado's ski industry, the extreme conditions shut down several ski resorts. The storm also closed numerous schools and government offices Thursday and Denver area schools were closed in advance for Friday.

More than 53,000 customers were without power across Colorado on Thursday primarily in metro Denver and along the Front Range, according to poweroutage.us.

But plenty of people were enjoying the snow, like Melanie Brooks, who was out walking her dogs Thursday morning in Denver.

"I'm kind of sad that I didn't make it up to the mountains because now it's tough to drive there, and I'm missing a powder day," she said.

Since the storm is the rarer kind that brings more snow to the eastern half of the state rather than the mountains, it may not do much to feed the Colorado River, which supplies water to more than 40 million people in the West.

The storm started as rain in the Denver area and turned into snow. The area was expected to get 10 to 20 inches (25 to 50 centimeters) of snow, with up to 2 feet (60 centimeters) in the western suburbs, the weather service said.

Jarmila Schultz, 77, was tackling her sidewalks in shifts as the snow continued to fall.

"I have to get out early because I have to do it like four times because it's going to snow all day," she said, noting she has cleats on her boots to prevent her from falling. "It's water, ice and it's very hard for me to lift."

But she still loves the snow.

"You know, in my time I skied, snow-shoed and did all this and I think Colorado's incredible for those type of things."

Denver deployed 36 residential plows starting at 3 a.m. Thursday with the plan to shave the top few inches of snow off streets, to help clear paths to main streets.

Tyler Barnes, a Miami native who drove a ride-share overnight, was trying snow-shoeing for the first time Thursday morning, and found it was pretty easy.

"It was really what I hoped it would be like," he said. "I feel confident I could walk a long way in these."

Denver International Airport was open Thursday, but about 800 flights were canceled with nearly 200 more delayed, according to Flightaware.com.

The snowstorm comes as other parts of the country face severe weather. Massive chunks of hail pelted parts of Kansas and Missouri on Wednesday night, with storms unleashing possible tornadoes in Kansas.

Copyright 2024 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

The Associated Press
[Copyright 2024 NPR]
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