Heavy snowstorm hits Colorado on its way east

DENVER (AP) — A powerful winter storm swept across Colorado on Friday as it headed east, bringing blizzard warnings to eastern Colorado and western Kansas, and winter storm warnings for southeast Wyoming and western Nebraska.

The storm stretched as far south as New Mexico, where Department of Transportation is reporting difficult driving conditions on several state highways because of the winter weather, leaving highways snow packed and icy.

Southwest Airlines canceled all its flights through 4 p.m. Friday at Denver International Airport because of a winter storm hitting Colorado. The airline says it wanted to mitigate the impact of the storm on its operations elsewhere across the country.

The Colorado Department of Transportation closed portions of Interstate 70 and Interstate 25, the two main arteries crisscrossing the state. The National Weather Service said snow was falling at 2 inches an hour on the Eastern Plains, producing some blizzard conditions.

Colorado State Patrol spokesman Josh Lewis said non-essential staffers were told to come in at 10 a.m. and Gov. John Hickenlooper told state workers in the Denver metro area to stay home until 10 a.m. unless their jobs involved health and safety.

Transportation spokeswoman Becky Navarro said Friday eastbound I-70 was closed from Aurora to Limon and a ramp was closed on Interstate 25 in Denver because of numerous accidents.

"There are a lot of areas on the Front Range where there is very poor visibility," she said.

One of the largest snow totals Friday morning was two feet in Pinecliff west of Denver, and snow totals were mounting rapidly along the Front Range and eastern Colorado.

Jim Kalina of the National Weather Service said another foot of snow was expected in some areas along the Front Range before the storm moves out on Saturday.

The weather service said the snow will be moderate at times on Friday in Wyoming and Nebraska. However, winds could gust up to 35 mph and produce blowing snow from the southern Laramie Range to Sidney, Neb.

Cities in the Front Range urban corridor from Colorado Springs in the south to Fort Collins and Greeley in the north were under a winter storm warning.

The storm warnings prompted shoppers to stock up on food and liquor, while Colorado lawmakers canceled legislative work on Friday.

Stores in Denver reported brisk business Thursday night.

"The cheese wall is hammered, bread's kind of hammered, milk's kind of low," said Aaron McFadden, a manager at a King Soopers store.

Ted Vaca at Argonaut Liquor said customers were snapping up all kinds of drink.

"It was more like a Friday than a Thursday," he said.

The storm forced the cancellation of more than 200 arriving and departing flights at the Denver airport that had been scheduled through Friday night.

A Learjet ran off a runway at the Pueblo airport as the storm moved in, but investigators hadn't determined if the weather was a factor. None of the 10 people aboard was injured, the Federal Aviation Administration said.

Many school districts announced they would be closed on Friday, including the two largest, in Jefferson County and Denver.


Associated Press Writer Dan Elliott also contributed to this report.