DENVER – Colorado has already started preparing for what has the potential to be a major winter snowstorm this weekend that could dump more than a foot of snow across the area.
The Colorado Department of Transportation issued a warning Wednesday telling people who need to be anywhere along I-25 or I-70, the Front Range, and in the mountains and foothills to be sure they get to where they need to be before the bulk of the storm hits on Friday afternoon or evening.
CDOT is advising people not to travel at all during the storm on roads that are likely to see some of the heaviest snowfall – including I-70 in the foothills and mountains and the I-25 South Gap between Castle Rock and Monument.
The department is also warning that I-70 east of Airpark Road and other highways on the Eastern Plains could be shut down if the storm hits with the severity currently forecast.
CDOT says its plows will focus on the major interstates during the storm before moving on to secondary routes once most of the snow has fallen – which are likely to remain snowpacked throughout the storm and in the immediate aftermath.
“During a significant and high impact snow storm, travel should be limited to emergency and essential reasons with the proper vehicle and tires for heavy snow,” the department said Wednesday. “DO NOT ATTEMPT to drive in such weather conditions unless you have the appropriate tires with good tread. Motorists should leave ample distance behind the vehicle ahead and NOT PASS PLOWS. If you are out in the storm, have an emergency kit with blankets, food, batteries, water, a shovel and survival supplies should you get stuck or stranded.”
For more information on winter driving laws in Colorado, click here. You can stay updated with the latest traffic conditions in the metro area at the Denver7 traffic page and across the state with COTrip.
In Denver, the city says it is planning to deploy its large and residential plows as needed throughout the storm starting overnight Thursday into Friday. The city says that residential streets will be plowed between 3 a.m. and 3 p.m.
Michael Nelson, with Centennial Public Works, walked through the technology that will be used to treat the road, such as monitors that give Public Works looks at most of the main streets around the city.
"That helps us see the roadways are clear and that it’s to our expectation," said Nelson.
That monitoring system is paired with a more calibrated one, which provides important information like current road temperature and conditions.
"We also look at the grip on the roadways that helps to tell me what the friction is on the tires," Nelson said.
At Denver International Airport, crews will be ready to treat runways and Peña Boulevard throughout the storm, the airport said. People who are flying into or out of Denver this weekend are being asked to confirm their flight status before coming to the airport and plan to travel to the airport well in advance of any scheduled flights.
United Airlines is among the airlines offering travel waivers for the March 12-15 period because of the likely severe snowstorm – so long as tickets were purchased before March 8. Frontier and Southwest have also issued travel alerts for the weekend and are allowing people to change their flights.
Emily Williams, a spokesperson for the airport, said the airport expects delays and cancellations throughout the day on Saturday and Sunday.
RTD says it plans to bring in extra staff to help with dispatching and supervising buses. For light rails, RTD will be running trains on the W Line and R Line to keep wires from icing up, and mechanics will be on standby to deal with any issues. RTD says it also has its snow removal teams readying shifts and schedules for the storm.
The American Red Cross said it was working to have evacuation centers on standby during the storm. It offered up the following 15 tips to stay safe in the storm:
- Keep children, pets and things that can burn (such as paper, matches, bedding, furniture, clothing, carpets, and rugs) at least 3 feet away from heaters
- If you use a space heater, place it on a level, hard and nonflammable surface, not on rugs, carpets or near bedding or drapes. Never into an extension cord with a space heater
- Never leave a fire in the fireplace unattended. Use a glass or metal fire screen to keep embers in the fireplace
- Never use a cooking range or oven to heat your home
- Turn off portable space heaters every time you leave the room or go to sleep
- Wear layers of clothing, a hat, mittens and waterproof, insulated boots
- Be careful when shoveling snow in cold temperatures
- Check on your neighbors, especially elderly people living alone, people with disabilities and children
- Bring pets indoors or if that's not possible, make sure they have enough shelter to keep them warm. Ensure their water doesn't freeze
- Watch for hypothermia and frostbite. Hypothermia symptoms include confusion, dizziness, exhaustion and severe shivering. Frostbite symptoms include numbness, flushed gray, white, blue or yellow skin discoloration, numbness, or waxy feeling skin
- When driving, make sure everyone has their seat belts on. Give your full attention to the road
- Don’t follow other vehicles too closely
- Don’t use cruise control in winter weather
- Don’t pass snowplows
- Remember that ramps, bridges and overpasses freeze before roadways do
Xcel Energy said it was prepared for possible power outages and advising people to prepare as they would for other large snowstorms.
“We’re currently monitoring this storm and preparing our crews to handle potential outages due to heavy snowfall and ice,” said Mark Newby, a control center and trouble operations director for Xcel in Colorado. “We have a seasoned crew well versed in quickly and safely restoring power in the most extreme conditions and this storm is no different. We are ready to respond.”
Tracie Tate was one of many shoppers stocking up before the storm on Wednesday.
"I’m just making sure I have everything I need to get through the weekend," Tate said.
Several cities in the metro area said they would have increased outreach for people experiencing homelessness to try to get them into shelters.
The National Weather Service in Boulder has issued a winter storm watch for nearly all of northeastern Colorado effective Friday evening through Sunday night. As of Wednesday afternoon, the forecast showed a likely widespread 18-24 inches of snow in the metro area and along the Front Range from Colorado Springs up to Cheyenne, with up to 30 inches forecast for some of the foothills and higher mountain elevations.