Strong winds raked Colorado Friday morning, forcing two major mountain highways to close.
Interstate 70 was closed between Floyd Hill and Vail in both directions as a result of adverse weather conditions. It reopened at about 4:45 p.m.
U.S. 40 over Berthoud Pass was also closed due the possibility of avalanches, as was U.S. Highway 6 over Loveland Pass. Berthoud Pass is expected to be closed until Saturday morning, although local traffic is allowed through Empire to the Henderson Mine, the Colorado Department of Transportation said.
U.S. 40 was also closed in both directions over Rabbit Ears Pass and between Kremmling and Steamboat Springs. The area between Kremmling and Steamboat Springs reopened Friday, just before 6 p.m.
State Highway 91 was also closed northbound only over Fremont Pass, CDOT said.
CDOT crews had been working to mitigate avalanche potential on I-70 and Berthoud Pass but high winds and poor visibility prevented highways from reopening early.
Emergency managers said they are in disaster mode and asked everyone in Grand County to stay indoors because of the blizzard-like conditions.
Ray Jennings, with the Grand County Emergency Management, said several crews were out rescuing several dozen stranded drivers.
"The wind conditions on the east side of the county are so deplorable that it's making driving dangerous," said Jennings. "This is the worst that I've seen it in the three years that I have been here."
Emergency shelters were open at Middle Park Middle School in Granby and Fraser Elementary in Fraser to house stranded travelers.
U.S. Highway 285 was also closed from Kenosha Pass to Fairplay Friday morning. It reopened just before 3 p.m.
Click here for updated road closure information from the Colorado Department of Transportation.
Stuck Skiers Not Happy
Some who are stuck on the interstate, waiting for I-70 to open were not happy about the start of their long holiday weekend.
Many thought they would be up in the mountains enjoying all the snow Friday afternoon.
"I left Denver at 8:30 and now I'm about mile way from (Eisenhower) tunnel," said Kathy Neustadt, speaking by cell phone from her car. "Traffic is at a standstill. The wind blows and you can't see the car in front of you. Everyone is driving with their flashers on to increase visibility."
Neustadt said the blowing snow made it hard to see very far.
"I'm right next to Loveland Ski Area and I can't see it. I wouldn't know it was there," she said.
Others who were stopped near Floyd Hill sat in traffic for several hours even though skies were blue and sunny. Drivers seemed more frustrated with the two-hour jam to turn around than with the closure itself.
"We've been in this jam up here, to turn around, for over an hour -- in sight of this exit," said Evan Elah. "It's insane."
Copper Mountain said that as of 2 p.m., it had received 11 inches in the last 24 hours. "Conditions are ideal with lots of untracked powder still to be had," resort officials said.
However, not all resorts enjoyed the powder on Friday.
Winter Park Ski Resort closed at noon because of "extremely adverse weather conditions and winds," resort spokesman Matt Sugar said. They expect to be open Saturday at 8:30 a.m.
Total snow accumulations from the mountain snow were expected between 8 and 18 inches, according to the storm warning. The highest amounts were expected to be around Rabbit Ears Pass and near by Wyoming border.
A winter storm warning was in effect for counties east of the Continental Divide until midnight and west of the Divide until 5 a.m. Click here to read the latest severe weather alerts.
High Winds Sweep Along Metro Area
A high wind warning for the Denver metro area was issued earlier.
Winds topping 100 mph hit the area along Highway 93 between Golden and Boulder, forcing highway officials to close it because of ground blizzard conditions from blowing snow.
Wind gusts recorded Friday morning included 101 mph at Rocky Flats, 81 mph in southwest Boulder, 69 mph on Berthoud Pass and in Georgetown, and 67 mph in Longmont.
The hurricane-force winds were the result of a strong jet stream over Colorado that had winds of 180 mph.
"It's like a river running through the mountains. It moves faster in the narrow areas," said National Weather Service technician Carl Burroughs. "The wind does the same thing through the canyons here."
Strong winds knocked down trash cans, paper stands, and quite a few street lights in Boulder. One intersection on Highway 93 lost three street lights in the early morning hours and it took crews most of the day to fix the problem.
Power was knocked out in Black Hawk and Central City overnight and Xcel officials said winds might be to blame. Power was back on for most residents by daybreak Friday.
In southern Wyoming, parts of Interstate 80 were closed between Cheyenne and Laramie.
A high wind warning means that strong and potentially damaging winds are either occurring or highly likely. Wind damage and power outages are also possible. Blowing and drifting snow could become a problem in open areas on the Plains.
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