Wyoming, Colorado Hit by Late Blizzard
STEVEN K. PAULSON
Mar. 19, 2003
DENVER (AP) _ A blizzard buried parts of Colorado and Wyoming in 5-foot snowdrifts, shutting down state governments, stranding thousands of people and tearing the Denver airport terminal's roof.
The storm battered a long swath of the Rocky Mountain region, from New Mexico to the Canadian border, weather officials said, and a blizzard warning remained in effect Wednesday from New Mexico to the Colorado-Wyoming line.
Gov. Bill Owens' spokesman, Dan Hopkins, said the storm may be the worst to hit metropolitan Denver in 20 years.
Denver International Airport was shut down, stranding about 3,700 travelers, and a seam in the tent-like roof began to tear under the weight of the snow. The tear appeared to be several yards long.
Officials in both states warned residents to stay home unless absolutely necessary, and there was limited sympathy for stranded motorists.
``We're not Triple A, and we're not equipped to help people who are stuck,'' police Officer Dave Padilla said in Cheyenne, Wyo.
The storm that rumbled into Colorado Tuesday delivered its heaviest blow in the foothills and from the Denver area to the north and east.
Southeastern Denver had gotten 29 inches of snow by early Wednesday, and Boulder, 38 inches. Cheyenne was up to 18 inches by morning, and its 16 inches on Tuesday set a record for the date. In the foothills west of Denver, Cabin Creek reported 6 feet of snow.
More snow _ perhaps 6 inches _ was on the way.
``A good storm lasts a day,'' said National Weather Service meteorologist Kyle Fredin. ``This will be a three-day storm.''
Denver's streets were empty at morning rush hour, save the occasional bus or commuter with 4-wheel-drive. Offices, stores and even the coffee shops were closed.
Snowplows fought to stay ahead of the heavy, wet snow _ more troublesome than Colorado's signature skier's powder.
Dave May, warm in an orange jumpsuit, was shoveling chest-high snow that the plows had pushed in front of the office building where he works.
``I'm the snow man. I have to be in,'' said May, a building engineer who used his 4-wheel-drive truck to make his commute of about 10 miles. ``Getting out of my street was the worst part. The snow was up to the emblem on the grille.''
May said he thinks this storm was worse than the ``Christmas blizzard'' of 1982, which paralyzed the Mile High City for two days.
``It was fluffier stuff,'' he said.
Stacey Mittelstadt, a Casper, Wyo., teacher, was stuck in Billings Logan International Airport in Montana on her way home from a conference in Phoenix. She said she considered renting a car or taking a flight to Salt Lake City for a possible connecting flight to Casper but thought better of it.
``I just don't want to risk it,'' she said. ``I'm closer to home now.''
At Denver International, about 4,000 people waiting for flights were evacuated from the main terminal into another concourse after officials found the tear in the roof's Teflon-coated outer layer. An inner layer was intact, airport spokeswoman Amy Bourgeron said.
Stranded travelers had spent the night on cots and in chairs and blankets stretched across the floor. The facility closed early Wednesday after about 2 feet of snow had fallen. There was no immediate word on when it would reopen.
At least 200 people were stranded at the Greyhound bus station in downtown Denver. Kathy Rhamy of Mobile, Ala., and Vesta Hall of Laramie, Wyo., said their last meal was at 2 p.m. Tuesday.
They said some passengers had no money for food, and Rhamy gave a nutrition bar to a woman with diabetes.
``They should send out the National Guard or Red Cross,'' Hall said. ``Especially in a city like this, it's uncalled for.''
The University of Wyoming canceled classes, and the first-round National Invitation Tournament men's basketball game between Wyoming and Eastern Washington was rescheduled from Wednesday to Thursday.
Strong wind whipped the snow horizontally, sweeping many areas bare and piling up 10-foot drifts across roads, at the end of driveways and behind cars.
Residents were advised not to travel in Cheyenne, where the wind-driven snow forced all state offices, schools and the Postal Service to close. F.E. Warren Air Force Base was closed to all but essential personnel.
The storm shut down a 150-mile stretch of Interstate 80 and a 130-mile section of Interstate 90 in northeastern Wyoming. In Colorado, sections of Interstate 25 and I-70 remained closed Wednesday.
There were no reports of serious injuries.
Roofs collapsed on a downtown nightclub and a 25,000-square-foot warehouse in northeastern Denver, the Denver Fire Department said. No injuries were reported.
The snow was good news for the Colorado water supply.
Last year was the state's driest on record, and the mountain snowpack _ which accounts for four-fifths of the water in the state's lakes and rivers _ stood at about 85 percent of average last week.
``We are very grateful. We're very glad to see it. The snow that we've received has brought us to just about normal,'' said Trina McGuire-Collier, spokeswoman for Denver Water.
On the Net:
National Weather Service warnings: http://iwin.nws.noaa.gov/iwin/nationalwarnings.html