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Colorado weather: Heavy snow hits Denver, Front Range; “major impacts” expected for metro area

Editor’s note: This story will no longer be updated; see all of our current weather coverage here, including the forecast, road closures, snow totals and delays/cancellations at DIA

A winter storm set to pummel the Front Range and metro Denver with several feet of snow will arrive in force Thursday, shuttering schools and government offices and making travel dangerous or altogether impossible.

More than 4 feet of snow is expected in parts of the Front Range mountains and foothills, with large sections seeing 18 inches to 36 inches of snow, National Weather Service forecasters said Wednesday.

Metro Denver is forecast to see 10 inches to 20 inches of snow, with up to 2 feet falling in the western suburbs.

The Front Range mountains and foothills and the Interstate 25 corridor south of Longmont to Colorado Springs can expect major or extreme impacts from the storm, including dangerous or impossible driving conditions, scattered power outages and widespread closures, according to the National Weather Service. People should only travel in an emergency and bring a winter survival kit in case they become stranded.

The storm rolled into the mountains Wednesday afternoon and snow was forecast to start falling in Denver by 10 p.m. at a rate of 1 inch to 2 inches per hour, according to the agency.

Government officials and utility providers began preparing for the storm Wednesday before the first flakes had fallen, announcing office and school closures and warning residents of possible service disruptions and treacherous driving conditions.

Residents can report power outages and downed power lines to Xcel Energy online at or by calling 1-800-895-1999, the company said in a news release Wednesday. Nearly 165 employees and crew members will be on call statewide to respond to outages and restore electric and natural gas service.

People should stay away from downed power lines and always assume they’re energized and dangerous, Xcel officials said. Residents should also keep natural gas meters clear to prevent natural gas buildup indoors.

City and county governments announced sweeping closures ahead of the storm on Wednesday, including canceled classes for Denver Public Schools, Jeffco Public Schools, Littleton Public Schools, Englewood Public Schools, Westminster Public Schools, Cherry Creek School District, Adams 12 Five Star Schools, Adams County School District 14 and Douglas County School District. The University of Colorado Boulder also canceled in-person and some online classes.

Government offices across the metro area are also closed Thursday, including Denver, Denver County Courts, Englewood, Littleton, Sheridan, Centennial and Thornton, and state lawmakers announced they were also taking a snow day, canceling sessions in the Colorado Senate and House of Representatives.

Even if a government office or school remains open Thursday, roads may be extremely difficult or impossible to navigate and residents should plan to stay home, Colorado Department of Transportation officials said Wednesday.

State transportation officials anticipate safety closures on major highways during the storm, including Interstate 70 between Golden and the Eisenhower Tunnel, I-25 between Castle Rock and Colorado Springs and U.S. 285 between C-470 and Fairplay, said CDOT Maintenance & Operations Director John Lorme.

“Don’t travel if you don’t have to over the next 24 to 36 hours,” Lorme said.

Road closures can be triggered by winds over 15 mph causing low visibility for drivers and plows, he said.

Hazardous road conditions in the mountains and foothills could last into Friday as residents and road crews start to dig out from the storm, Lorme added.

Impassable roads may hinder emergency responders trying to rescue stranded drivers, said Colorado State Patrol Chief Col. Matt Packard, though rescue teams will work through the storm when possible.

CDOT is “all hands on deck” for the storm, deploying virtually all of the state’s 875 snow plows and 100 pieces of heavy equipment for the storm, spokesperson Matt Inzeo wrote in an email.

Teams near the Utah and Kansas borders will shift toward the center of the state to cover the full storm area while surge teams will respond to the hardest-hit areas, particularly the foothills throughout the Front Range, Inzeo said.

The agency will keep approximately 100 plows in the Denver metro and another 33 to 35 plows on I-70 between Golden and the Eisenhower Tunnel, though those numbers will change.

“Our crews will work 12.5-hour shifts that started (Wednesday) afternoon, and we will stay at this tempo until the storm clears and every travel lane is clear,” Inzeo wrote.

In Denver, 50 large plows are ready to deploy and 36 residential plows will hit the streets at 3 a.m. Thursday, city officials said in a news release. Residential plows will take a single pass down the center of each side street at least once every 24 hours.

Residential plows are not trying to clear side streets down to bare pavement, but rather to skim off the top layers of snow, preventing significant icing or rutting in the roadways, city officials said.

Front Range residents relying on public transportation to get around Thursday should also be ready for treacherous conditions, delays and slower travel times, Regional Transportation District officials said Wednesday. Access-a-Ride customers should expect delays and consider rescheduling trips, RTD officials said in a news release.

Denver is mobilizing a “Tier 4” response to the storm, which is the highest priority storm response in the city’s protocols, Mayor Mike Johnston said at a news conference Wednesday afternoon at the City and County Building.

“Obviously, we know this is going to be a big storm, and Denver is ready,” Johnston said, standing alongside the city’s police chief, fire chief, sheriff and other key officials.

It’s been at least two or three years since Denver has mobilized in a Tier 4 response, said Amy Ford, the new mayor’s appointee in charge of the city’s Department of Transportation and Infrastructure, pending City Council approval.

Johnston highlighted several precautions the city government is taking ahead of the storm, including having all nonessential city staff work from home on Thursday, pausing the time limits some migrants may be nearing on their stays in city shelters and opening a warming center in the Glenarm Recreation Center, at 2800 Glenarm Place in Five Points.

While Denver city offices, libraries and recreation centers are closed, 24-hour services will operate on regular schedules, including police, trash, traffic, 311 and emergency shelters, city officials said in a news release.

“Most importantly of all, the St. Patrick’s Day parade will still be happening on Saturday, and I will be there,” Johnston said.

Denver Post reporters Nick Coltrain and Seth Klamann contributed to this report.

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