Blizzard Strands Travelers, Stops Transportation

Airport, Highways, Schools, Businesses Shut Down

A powerful blizzard crippled holiday travel and shopping in Colorado's biggest cities on Wednesday, dumping up to a foot of snow in the mountains and whipping up 3-foot drifts on the plains.

The storm closed both major interstates through Colorado: I-25 from Fort Collins to Wyo., Denver to N.M., I-70 from Denver to Kansas, and I-76 from Denver to Neb., on Wednesday and left no indication of when they might re-open.

Gov. Bill Owens declared a disaster emergency and called out the National Guard. By sundown, they were already busy rescuing motorists stuck in a huge traffic jam on Highway 36 near Broomfield. He also ordered state offices closed on Thursday, for the safety of employees and citizens.

"Gov. Owens has directed that essential state employees continue to report to duty. However, non-essential employees should not report until scheduled Friday," said spokesman Dan Hopkins

The National Weather Service continued blizzard warnings for most of eastern Colorado and the Interstate 25 corridor thursday evening,.

Numerous advisories and warnings were in effect statewide through Thursday. Click here for the latest storm alerts.

"This is the same storm that brought damaging winds to the Pacific Northwest and snow to Las Vegas," said 7NEWS Chief Meteorologist Mike Nelson. "It is finally coming to Colorado, and should pack a big punch."

Storm totals from the mountains to Denver and on the eastern plains are expected to exceed a foot. Portions of the mountains, foothills and the Palmer Divide may see in excess of two feet. Gusty north and northeast winds will drift the snow several feet deep.

Highways Closed In Colo., Wyo., Neb.

The storm was disrupting holiday travel plans for thousands. Roads will be difficult to impossible as the storm peaks later Wednesday into Thursday. Numerous road closures from Denver to Kansas, as well as points north and south were in place:

As of 9 p.m. Wednesday the following state roads and highways were closed:

  • I-25 New Mexico to south Denver (Lincoln Avenue/south of C-470 to New Mexico) and from SH 7 north to Wyoming
  • I-70 from Airpark Road (east of E-470) to Kansas
  • I-76 Denver to Nebraska
  • I-76 Closed at I-80 in Nebraska
  • US 85 Brighton to Wyoming
  • US 287 Teds Place to Wyoming
  • US 36 Last Chance to Kansas
  • US 385 from US 36 to Lamar
  • CO 86 from Castle Rock to I-70
  • CO 96 from Ordway to Kansas
  • US 6 Sterling to Haxtun
  • CO 23 from Holyoke to Nebraska
  • SH 67 Cripple Creek to Divide
  • SH 94 from Colorado Springs to Punkin Center
  • SH 71 Last Chance to Ordway and Stoneham to Wyoming
  • SH 59 from Kit Carson to Yuma County Line
  • US 24 Colorado Springs to Limon
  • US 40/287 Limon to Lamar
  • US 40 Limon to Kansas
  • US 40 Berthoud Pass
  • US 160 Fort Garland to Springfield & Walsenburg to Alamosa
  • SH 10 Walsenburg to La Junta
  • SH 12 from Trinidad to US 160 (La Veta)
  • SH 93 Boulder to Golden
  • SH 59, US 36 to the Yuma County LIne
  • SH 63 Anton to Washington County Line
  • US 350 La Junta to US 160
  • US 6 Loveland Pass
  • SH 14 Cameron Pass

    "Motorists who have become stranded in the blizzard and need help should call 911. Dispatchers for 911 centers can help identify their location and dispatch the appropriate resource to help them," said Polly White a spokeswoman for the Colorado Division of Emergency Management.

    The Red Cross opened seven shelters across the metro area to accomodate stranded travelers.

    Click here for latest road closure information from CDOT.

    Nebraska roads department officials closed 102 miles of Interstate 80 in Western Nebraska Wednesday because of limited visibility and slick roads.

    Roads department spokeswoman Mary Jo Hall said that Interstate 80 was closed from the junction with Interstate 76 -- coming out of Colorado -- west to the Wyoming border.

    Wyoming officials also closed part of I-80 in their state between Cheyenne and the Nebraska border.

    RTD Can't Guarantee Continued Service

    Regional Transportation District spokesman Scott Reed told 7News before noon Wednesday that people in town who depend on bus service should head home soon because it won't be a "business as usual" day. Bus service was suspended at 7 p.m. Wednesday due to dangerous road conditions.

    A number of buses were stuck across the metro area Wednesday evening. RTD said bus service would be suspended until further notice.

    Light rail was to continue running with reduced service, he said.

    The Front Range Express bus service run by the city of Colorado Springs to Denver, and points in-between, shut down around noon Wednesday. One of the buses slid off of Interstate 25, and city spokeswoman Sue Skiffington-Blumberg said six passengers had to be taken back to Colorado Springs. No significant injuries were reported in that accident.

    DIA Closed

    Major airlines canceled flights in and out of Denver International Airport Wednesday, during one of the busiest travel weeks of the year. The airport later closed and said it would remain closed until Thursday evening.

    Before the closure, the airlines expected 1,025,256 travelers to pass through DIA during Christmas week, which began Tuesday, and continues through Christmas Day. That would have been 22,779 more than the 1,002,477 passengers recorded during the same period last year, according to DIA. The closure of DIA was expected to keep the airport from breaking last year's record.

    Links to airlines, highway conditions in Colorado and surrounding states affected by this storm, and more can be found by clicking here.

    Much of the state will see anywhere from 1 to 4 feet from the December 2006 storm.

    Long lines were piling up at DIA ticket counters as travelers frantically tried to get information or rebook flights.

    Michael Heitc, 54, of Denver set out for the airport at 7:45 a.m. only to find his shuttle canceled. He finally made it to the ticket counter by 10 a.m.

    Heitc was trying to get to Oregon for the holidays, but resigned himself to a delay of at least one day, if not more.

    "You really can't do anything about it, you just have to relax," he said.

    An airport spokesman asked people not to come to DIA unless they have confirmation that their flight is arriving or departing. United Airlines offered to waive fees and restrictions for passengers who wished to change tickets to avoid traveling through Denver, where the airline has a large hub.

    Schools Close, Except In Fort Collins

    Numerous school districts across Colorado closed Wednesday in anticipation of worsening weather conditions. But the Poudre School District in Fort Collins remained open and that had some parents hopping mad.

    Superintendent Jerry Wilson later apologized for putting children and their parents in possible danger by keeping schools open for most of the day, even though Colorado State University and many businesses in the city shut down.

    "In respect to parents, students and staff, I feel that while the decision we made was the best one at the time, in hindsight it might have been a good idea to look at a closure earlier," Wilson told the Fort Collins Coloradoan.

    "I personally want to assure folks that these decisions are not made easily and that we apologize for putting people in harm’s way," he told the newspaper.

    The district said all district operations would be closed Thursday. Click here for the latest school closings list.

    Ski Areas Celebrate

    The lumbering storm, which is drawing moisture out of the Pacific, dropped over 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. More snow was expected overnight.

    "We've been waiting for a big storm to hit so this was the best early Christmas present," Durango Mountain Resort spokeswoman Loryn Kasten said.

    She hoped news of the snow would help bring more even more snowriders to Colorado during the traditionally busy week between Christmas and New Year's.

    Roseanne Pitcher, Wolf Creek's vice president, said 23 inches of snow have fallen there since Sunday.

    "We're happy. We've been getting a little over 2,000 skiers a day," Pitcher said.

    The storm has many hoping for a white Christmas this year.

    "We have cold temperatures in the forecast statewide through Christmas," said Nelson. "So it is very likely that snow from this storm will still be on the ground Christmas morning."

    Find out more about the history of a white Christmas by clicking here.

    Please check frequently and keep your television tuned to Channel 7 for the latest storm coverage.

    Comcast Digital Cable customers can watch channel 247 for news and weather 24 hours a day.

    In the Denver area, weather from the 24/7 Weather Center is also available on radio partners, including Studio 1430, Alice 105.9, KOSI 101, and The Mountain.

    In northern Colorado, forecasts are available on 1310 KFKA and K99.

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