Big snowstorm wallops Colorado and Wyoming

DENVER (AP) — A powerful autumn snowstorm slowly worked its way out of Colorado and into Nebraska and Kansas Thursday, causing blizzard conditions on the eastern plains and leaving in its wake treacherous roads and hundreds of canceled flights.

The storm dropped more than 3 feet of snow in the foothills west of Denver and closed hundreds of schools and businesses. Roads across the region remained snowpacked and icy, and the Mount Rushmore National Memorial in western South Dakota was shut down.

“Big storms like these, they seem to come around every 10 to 12 years,” said Kyle Fredin, a National Weather Service meteorologist.

The storm spread snow from northern Utah’s Wasatch Front to western Nebraska’s border with South Dakota.

Denver-based Frontier Airlines said it canceled 19 flights in and out of Denver International Airport. Other flights were delayed by up to four hours. United Airlines, the airport’s dominant carrier with about 400 flights per day, canceled half its flights Thursday to prevent delays and cancelations from spilling over into today, spokesman Charlie Hobart said.

Airport spokesman Chuck Cannon said crews were using 174 pieces of snow-removal equipment to keep runways and taxiways clear as they dealt with severe wind gusts. Cannon said two departure and two arrival runways were open. The airport received at least 16 inches of snow with 5-foot snow drifts east of Denver, the weather service said.

Blizzard conditions affected much of eastern Colorado as the storm moved into the central Plains. The weather service warned that most eastern Colorado roads would be impassible Thursday night because of blowing snow and near-zero visibility.

The Colorado Department of Transportation closed a 140-mile stretch of Interstate 70 from near Denver to Burlington and 55 miles of Interstate 76 from Lochbuie to Fort Morgan. Plows struggled to keep up with the blowing snow, said CDOT spokesman Bob Wilson.

No serious accidents were reported, likely because shuttered businesses meant fewer cars on the road, Wilson said.

In Wyoming, road closures included a 40-mile stretch of Interstate 80 from Cheyenne to Laramie; a 35-mile span of Interstate I-25 from Wellington to Cheyenne; and a 200-mile stretch of I-80 west of Big Springs to Laramie, Wyo. Snow drifts were running up to 4 feet in Cheyenne and up to 6 feet 30 miles north of the city.

The Wyoming Department of Transportation said it was unlikely Interstate 80 across the southeast part of the state would reopen until today. More than 120 accidents were reported across Wyoming Wednesday and Thursday, but there were no fatalities.

Whiteout conditions also were forecast late Thursday for the plains of Wyoming and western Nebraska, where 12 inches of snow fell in Rushville and 11 inches in nearby Clinton. Three-foot drifts were reported elsewhere in western Nebraska.

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