‘Bomb cyclone’ blizzard creates chaos across Colorado as governor declares state of emergency
In what is being called a “statewide event,” Colorado Department of Transportation is opening and closing highways at a frenetic pace across Colorado amid a “bomb cyclone” blizzard that is wreaking traffic havoc across the Front Range and High Country, as well as causing the cancellation of nearly 1,000 flights at Denver International Airport.
Gov. Jared Polis has declared a state of emergency for the first time in his short tenure, activating the state national guard to assist state and local authorities in helping hundreds of stranded motorists across the state. Over 500 motorists are reportedly stranded in El Paso County alone.
Polis spokeswoman Shelby Weiman said Wednesday the state Emergency Operations Center and the Department of Transportation are working with local counties “to prioritize the most immediate needs for those resources.”
Amid the chaos, a Colorado State Patrol trooper made the ultimate sacrifice. Trooper Daniel Groves, 52, died when he was struck outside his vehicle by an out of control vehicle. Groves was assisting a stranded motorist on I-76 when the accident happened.
At around 4:45 p.m. avalanche reduction work had been completed between Exit 176 in Vail and Exit 195 at Copper Mountain. The Vail Pass had been shut down for several hours, and CDOT representative Amy Ford said that the mitigation work removed excess snow on the side of the hill that could have led to more slides.
A safety closure lasting most of the day was lifted on I-70 eastbound at Exit 205 in Silverthorne at around 4:25 p.m.
CDOT travel shelters have not yet opened in Summit County, but may be opened if conditions worsen or persist. CDOT is strongly urging all residents to stay home and off the roads as conditions continue to deteriorate. Motorists will not be allowed to wait on the highway for closures to be lifted, and CDOT said that safety patrols are assisting drivers to shelters wherever possible.
CDOT said that over 100 plows are working in the Denver Metro region alone with what is being called a “winter hurricane,” blowing gale-like winds across the plains and creating whiteout conditions.
The winds are caused by a sudden, severe drop in barometric pressure that creates hurricane-like conditions. Climatologist Russ Schumacher from Colorado State University described the storm as “one of the strongest ones we’ve seen in this part of the country.”
I-25 and I-70 have both been closed at the north and east borders of the state. Many motorists are stranded on I-25, which is now the worst-affected major thoroughfare in the state. Nearly 200,000 Xcel customers are without power in the Denver metro region, with the utility warning of multi-day outages for some areas.
During their final evening briefing, CDOT continued to urge residents to stay at home and off the roads going into tomorrow. In the mountain corridor, I-70 is currently open, but avalanches remain a high concern. I-25 is still a mess, with 200 cars estimated needing removal. The National Guard is performing specific tasks across the state in assisting local authorities to clear roads and keep people safe. Aside from Trooper Groves, no other fatalities have been recorded today. I-25 in Denver and across the border into Wyoming will remain closed into tomorrow, as well as I-70 East going into the eastern plains and Kansas.T
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