Major Snowstorm Swamps Denver; Avalanches Hit Rockies

Shoppers in Denver struggle to head to their vehicles outside a grocery store as a late winter storm packing hurricane-force winds and snow sweeps over the region on Wednesday. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

DENVER (CN) — A major snowstorm hit Denver Wednesday, snarling traffic, closing the international airport, schools and courts, in a “bomb cyclone” caused by barometric pressure so low it was expected to set an all-time record for the city.

At least 10,000 Coloradans had lost electrical power by 9 a.m., as the predawn rain changed to snow. Six to 10 inches of snow are predicted for Denver, with wind gusts up to 60 mph, according to the National Weather Service.

A car flipped on Interstate 70 this morning, blocking two lanes of traffic even before the snow started to fall.

Nearly 1,000 flights had been canceled by 9:45 a.m. at Denver International Airport, which was expecting as much snowfall as Denver itself. Virtually all carriers were canceling flights.

A bomb cyclone occurs when barometric pressure plummets rapidly: at least 24 millibars in 24 hours, according to the National Weather Service.

The condition is known in New England as a Nor’easter, in which a storm passes from east to west, then bends back around its center to strike again, from the northeast. The National Weather Service called it “a very rare circumstance” for Colorado, as the pattern, when it occurs, usually is on a coast.

The temperature in Denver was predicted to drop from 41 degrees to 25 by mid-afternoon, with steady northerly winds blowing from 19 to 39 mph, with gusts up to 60 mph or more. Residents were warned to beware of falling trees and branches.

Colorado has been hit with several avalanches this month, including one near Aspen that dumped 15 feet of snow so quickly down a mountain that it continued uphill on the other slope. Eight people have been killed so far in the hundreds of avalanches throughout the state, according to the Colorado Avalanche Information Center, and back country poses “critical danger” to hikers and skiers, according to the avalanche center. Nine of state’s 10 avalanche zones are under avalanche warning or watch, according to the center. The avalanche center called Monday avalanches near Independence Pass/ Twin Lake in the center of the state “historic-sized.”

Hinsdale County Sheriff Justin Casey, in the San Juan Mountains of southwestern Colorado, was injured with his two daughters Tuesday in an avalanche that destroyed their home, according to the Denver Post. Officials in Lake City, where the Caseys live, ordered a mandatory evacuation for one subdivision.

Government offices in Denver were closed Wednesday, as were all schools. Courts were closing at noon. The storm was predicted to sweep east into the high plains, with sustained winds of 50 mph.

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