Wet spring snows hit Rockies, Nebraska

DENVER (AP) — Much of Interstate 80 in southern Wyoming was closed Monday after a spring storm brought up to 3 feet of snow to the Rockies and severe thunderstorms and tornadoes to the Midwest.

A flash flood watch was in effect for portions of Oklahoma and Arkansas, where more than 4 inches of rain were possible. Meanwhile, residents in eastern Nebraska were cleaning up from Sunday’s thunderstorms and twisters, which ripped roofs off homes and toppled buildings, but caused no major injuries. People in the western Panhandle woke up to a blanket of heavy, wet snow.

In Wyoming, a 180-mile stretch of I-80 was closed between the Nebraska state line and Rawlins. Another 200 miles of eastbound I-80 between the Utah state line and Rawlins also was closed because of snow and blowing snow. Truck stops in southeastern Wyoming were full of stranded truckers.

In Colorado, the snow that began falling on Mother’s Day caused some power outages as it weighed down newly greening trees.

Among those affected by the outages was Denver International Airport, where some escalators and elevators temporarily stalled Monday morning. Airport spokeswoman Julie Smith said a backup generator spared the airport any major problems. At least 27 arriving and departing flights were canceled due to the weather, but Smith said there were no major delays. Crews were working overnight to de-ice runways.

The lingering snow slowed down Monday morning’s commute in the Denver area but driving conditions were worse in the mountains. The weather appears to be to blame for at least one fatal crash Sunday on U.S. Highway 285 southwest of Denver.

The highway was one of the worst for accidents in the storm. Two law enforcement cruisers were also hit along the road in less than an hour responding to other crashes.

In Nebraska, officials said the storms damaged homes and businesses in or near Sutton, Garland, Cordova and Daykin, knocking out power. Parts of Illinois, Indiana and Iowa, were hit by strong thunderstorms and hail, which also caused some power outages.

“May snow certainly isn’t unheard of here in Colorado, even down in the Denver metro area,” said David Barjenbruch, a National Weather Service meteorologist in Boulder. “If we see the total accumulations that we are anticipating from this storm, we are certainly going to see a top 10 May snow event for the Denver metro area.”

The storm is the result of a low-pressure system moving east colliding with a cold air mass from the north. While temperatures were expected to drop below freezing Monday night, spring-like weather was expected to return to the Rockies by Tuesday.

Meanwhile, much of the West remains in some stage of drought, with the worst conditions in Southern California and the Southern Plains and Texas Panhandle. Gusty Santa Ana winds are raising the fire danger in California, where temperatures are expected to top 100 degrees in drought-stricken inland areas this week.

A wildfire on Sunday on the Panhandle’s dry, dusty plains destroyed 75 homes in a mobile home community. Conditions vary greatly within states.

While Colorado’s overall amount of snow in the mountains — the state’s main water supply — is close to average this year, the snowpack in its southwestern corner is way below normal and severe drought continues to afflict farms and ranches in the southeast. Fire officials are predicting a normal wildfire season for Colorado, which would be an improvement over recent years in which blazes have destroyed hundreds of houses.

In the West, high winds at the bottom of the storm sent dust blowing across Arizona and New Mexico, and the Los Angeles area had been under “red flag” fire warnings.

, with authorities saying blazes could quickly spread out of control under low humidity, gusty winds and dry conditions.

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