Winter storm hits Rocky Mountains

  • Associated Press
  • December 19, 2012 - 2:30 AM

DENVER - A storm bearing down on the Rocky Mountain region brought high winds and heavy snowfall, leaving crews in Denver and elsewhere to hurriedly clear roads as many people prepared for holiday travels.

Denver International Airport officials said blowing snow and low visibility were expected to cause delays Wednesday, and snow was expected to start falling at the airport around 4 or 5 a.m.

Colorado transportation crews fanned out across the Denver metro area Tuesday to keep the roads open as the storm swooped in. Officials called for as many as 75 Colorado Department of Transportation snowplows to begin working 12 hours shifts in the metro area late in the day.

In eastern Colorado, travelers could face especially treacherous conditions because of winds expected to reach 50 mph, said Mike Hudson, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Kansas City. These areas east of I-25 should get less snow than other parts of Colorado, but will have blizzard conditions and zero visibility.

"That wind is really going to play havoc," Hudson said.

The forecast over a two-day period called for up to 6 inches of snow along the Front Range, which is home to 4.1 million of Colorado's 5 million residents.

The storm has already caused difficult driving conditions in western Colorado that prompted officials to close Colorado 65 over the 11,333-foot Grand Mesa near Grand Junction.

The storm could cause travel delays on major highways such as Interstate 40 in Arizona, Interstate 15 in Utah, Interstate 70 in Utah and Colorado and Interstate 25 in Colorado.

The National Weather Service was forecasting 3-8 inches of snow in southern Utah and northern Arizona from Tuesday to Wednesday, and 6-8 inches of snow in some parts of Colorado.

Mountains and ski areas in the three states will get more snow.

Light snow was expected in the Salt Lake City area in northern Utah, according to the National Weather Service. The Salt Lake City International Airport wasn't expecting delays.

But the snow will continue to come down heavily in the Utah ski resorts in the Wasatch Mountains. The ski areas have received 12-20 inches of snow in the last 48 hours and should get 4-8 inches more, said Jeff Zimmerman, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Salt Lake City.

The Utah Avalanche Center has issued a warning for dangerous backcountry snowslides in northern Utah's mountains.

By Thursday, the snow is expected to subside in Utah and Arizona. By then, storms will begin in the Pacific Northwest, where snow and rain is expected, Zimmerman said.

The snow expected in northern Arizona is adding to an already thick snowpack.

Two recent storms had combined to blanket the mountains north of Flagstaff with 2 feet of snow, about 20 inches in Flagstaff and along the Mogollon Rim, and about 6 inches in Prescott. The snowfall put Flagstaff above its nearly 17-inch normal for December with the snowiest month yet to come in January.

The fast-moving storm will hit Arizona from west to east Tuesday evening before leaving the state Wednesday with temperatures that will be 10-15 degrees below normal, the National Weather Service said.

For those traveling over the weekend for the holidays, the weather won't be as bitter. Warmer temperatures return Thursday and will back to near-normal on Friday and through the weekend, said Robert Rickey, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Flagstaff.

Until then, the major roadways in northern Arizona are expected to be an icy and slushy mess. Gusty winds that send snow blowing through the air also could limit visibility.


McCombs reported from Salt Lake City. Associated Press writer Felicia Fonseca contributed from Flagstaff, Ariz.

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