Wednesday, April 17, 2013
DENVER (AP) — A slow-moving spring storm is bringing much-needed moisture to parts of the Rockies and the Plains, but winds are raising the wildfire danger to the south.
Rocky Mountain National Park has already gotten more than 2 feet of snow, and more is expected to fall through Wednesday. Southeastern Wyoming could also get up to a foot. It was also snowing in western South Dakota and Nebraska, and the storm is expected to push farther into Nebraska and Colorado’s plains Wednesday night.
The first round of the storm came Monday, when Cheyenne, Wyo., received 6.9 inches of snow, breaking the old record of 6 inches set back in 1890. The snow also postponed the opening game of the Colorado Rockies-New York Mets series in Denver. After Rockies co-owner Dick Monfort and others pitched in to dig out Coors Field, the teams squeezed in a doubleheader Tuesday.
Blowing snow closed a 150-mile section of Interstate 80 in Wyoming and caused delays at Denver International Airport because planes need to be de-iced.
“Our crews can easily keep that road surface sustainable for travel, but if the wind comes up and you start get drifting and visibility problems then really you can’t plow fast enough to fix that, so it can be a losing battle at times,” Wyoming Department of Transportation spokesman Bruce Burrows said.
The storm forced some Wyoming colleges and schools to close early Tuesday, and some state government meetings were canceled. Even a “Storm Spotter Training” session in Lander was canceled because of the storm, according to the National Weather Service.
Meanwhile, parts of Colorado, including the state’s southwestern corner and the agricultural San Luis Valley, along with parts of New Mexico and Arizona got strong winds from the system, making it easier for wildfires to spread in the dry areas.
A 33-mile stretch of I-40 in northern Arizona was closed because of strong winds and reduced visibility.
In southwest Colorado, the La Plata Electric Association said blustery winds and downed trees were believed to have caused power outages affecting hundreds of customers Tuesday.
April is typically the second-snowiest month for Colorado and wet spring snows help boost the mountain snowpack that provides most of the water supply. It also helps delay lawn watering in Denver and along the rest of the populated Front Range region, where many water districts have limited watering after two years of drought conditions.
“It doesn’t stick around as long, but it gives that soil moisture heading into the drier months,” National Weather Service forecaster Jeff Colton said of spring snow.
The heavy blanket of snow does squash daffodils and other plants that have started to bloom, but any precipitation will be welcomed by dryland farmers on the Plains.
The snowpack in both Colorado and Wyoming is below average but has risen in the last week to 77 percent of average in both states.
Most of Colorado’s ski areas are already closed for the season, but Vail, Breckenridge and Copper Mountain resorts announced Tuesday that they would open for a bonus three-day weekend this week because of all the new snow. Aspen Highlands, which is still open, plans to open for an extra weekend next week.
The storm system is expected to pick up speed as it moves east into the Great Lakes on Friday. It should move off the East Coast on Saturday, Colton said.