Colorado Under Blizzard Warning; Storm Rolls into Denver, Plains

December 21, 2006

A powerful winter storm brought heavy snow and strong winds to Colorado on Wednesday, prompting airlines to cancel hundreds of flights and forcing highway officials to close the state’s busiest east-west route from Denver east to the Kansas border, 150 miles away.

United Airlines, the busiest carrier at Denver International Airport, canceled more than 630 flights into and out of the facility. Frontier planned to cancel up to 40.

“This is a step that we need to take because of what Mother Nature is throwing at us,” United spokesman Jeff Kovick said.

The cancellations came as the airlines ramped up for the busy Christmas weekend.

“If they canceled all of these flights today, those people have to fly sometime,” airport spokesman Chuck Cannon said.

The National Weather Service said up to 2 feet of snow could fall in the foothills west of Denver and up to 3 feet was expected in northern Colorado. Up to 20 inches was forecast for the eastern half of the state.

Most of eastern Colorado was under a blizzard warning, and winter storm warnings were issued for much of the rest of the state.

Interstate 70 was closed from just east of Denver to the Kansas border. Other roads were closed as well.

Winds up to 30 mph could pile up snow in deep drifts and make travel dangerous, forecasters said. They advised postponing travel until Friday.

Dozens of schools called off classes and many eastern Colorado courthouses closed.

Along the populous Front Range along the eastern foot of the Rocky Mountains — from Fort Collins on the north, through Denver and Colorado Springs to Pueblo on the south — the storm struck in earnest as the morning rush was getting under way. Early reports showed between a half-inch to 5 inches of snow.

The storm hit as mail carriers ramped up for what’s usually the busiest delivery day of the year, but with weather expected to clear by Friday, most people should get their Christmas cards and packages in time, said Al DeSarro, a U.S. Postal Service spokesman in Denver.

“Most people, they’re going to get that mail by Christmas,” he said.

The state emergency operations center in the south Denver suburb of Centennial was monitoring the storm.

“We’re talking to other state agencies, we’re talking to regional field managers,” said Dick Vnuk, chief of operations for the state Office of Emergency Management.

The storm dropped more a foot of snow in the state’s southwestern mountains Tuesday, on top of the foot or more than had fallen there over the weekend.

Durango Mountain Resort reported 17 inches of snow Tuesday and Wolf Creek ski area had 19 inches of new snow.

Vail Resorts, the second-largest ski operator in North American and owner of three Colorado ski resorts, canceled its company Christmas party at its suburban Denver headquarters Wednesday night, citing the wintry weather.

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