Storm Goes East After Dumping On Colorado

Published February 4, 2012 12:09PM (EST)

DENVER (AP) — The most powerful storm of the winter season pounded Colorado with up to 6 feet of snow in the Rocky Mountain foothills and forced the cancellation of more than 600 flights in Denver before heading east toward the central plains.

Blizzard conditions that hit the eastern Colorado plains, including 5-foot drifts in parts of Elbert County, began easing with forecasters advising of blowing snow early Saturday.

Light snow was falling intermittently in the Denver area early Saturday, but was expected to taper off by midday as the bulk of the storm moves out of the state, forecasters said

"We have a chance of snow in the foothills, but (Denver) metro will get just light flurries," National Weather Service meteorologist Robert Koopmeiners said Saturday.

He said all winter storm warnings have expired in Colorado, but the several counties in the state's eastern plains remain under a blowing snow advisory.

However, a winter storm warning was issued for parts of western Nebraska and northeastern Kansas and into southeastern Iowa. A blizzard warning remained on Friday for four counties in western Nebraska.

A band of heavy snow stalled over Nebraska, dumping nearly 13 inches in some spots.

Near-zero visibility forced officials to close all 160 miles of westbound Interstate 70 between the Kansas state line and metro Denver. A 70-mile stretch of eastbound I-70 from metro Denver to the plains town of Limon (LYE-min) also was closed.

The closures remained in effect early Saturday and Department of Transportation traffic specialist Becky Navarro said officials still can't say when it the roadway will reopen.

Agate, a small town on the closed section of I-70, reported more than 2 feet of snow by Friday night and winds gusting to 25 mph. Other towns in eastern Colorado reported more than a foot of snow and similar wind speeds.

The snow was a welcome boost to several ski resorts that have suffered below-average snowfall this season. But while Echo Mountain and other resorts close to Denver celebrated up to 14 inches of new snow, the storm only dusted larger resorts, such as Vail, with a few inches in the central Colorado mountains.

"It's been fantastic," said Scott Gales, a spokesman for Echo Mountain about 25 miles west of Denver. "We only had about 26 or 27 inches this morning. Now we're over 40 and it's still snowing at the rate of an inch or two an hour."

The Colorado Avalanche Information Center issued warnings for slopes east of the Continental Divide until noon Saturday, saying 2 feet or more of new snow could easily overrun the weak, existing snow pack.

In the foothills west of Denver, parts of I-70 were down to one lane, and chain laws were in effect throughout the mountains.

Most travelers apparently heeded storm and blizzard warnings. A few trucks were involved in crashes — none serious — on I-70, and Denver traffic was relatively smooth on Friday, said Gene Towne of the Colorado Department of Transportation.

"The accident situation hasn't really been that bad except the usual fender-benders we have during the evening commute," Towne said.

Some 600 flights were canceled at Denver International Airport, which averages 1,700 flights daily. Southwest Airlines, a key carrier at the airport, cancelled all of its flights for most of the day but resumed them late Friday.

Koopmeiners said snowfall across the Denver area ranged from 14-20 inches. Nearly four feet covered the Pinecliffe area, while there was 18 inches near Boulder and 14 inches in the capital city itself.

For many ranchers in drought-stressed eastern Colorado, the storm brought much-needed relief.

"Basically, this storm is going to be a real blessing because of the moisture," said Scott Johnson, who owns the Flying Diamond ranch near Kit Carson, about 130 miles southeast of Denver.

The Flying Diamond got 3 to 4 inches of snow, which was preceded by rain. Some of Johnson's other ranchland got a foot of snow.

Other ranchers' cattle were giving birth as the storm hit.

"Anything that was calving we moved in the barn," said Skylar Houston, a partner at the Aristocrat Angus Ranch about 35 miles north of Denver. Ranch hands had to feed other cattle because they couldn't graze through 6-inch snow, Houston said.

In Alaska, transportation officials urging motorists in the state's largest city to stay home over the weekend if they can so roads can be cleared as another winter storm blasted Anchorage.

The city was expected to get 6 to 10 inches of snow, with up to 15 inches on the city's upper hillside, said Dan Peterson, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Anchorage.


Associated Press Writers Steven K. Paulson and Catherine Tsai in Denver and Mark Thiessen in Anchorage, Alaska, contributed to this report.

By Salon Staff

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