Denver (AP) — The most powerful storm of the winter season pounded Colorado with up to 6 feet of snow in the Rocky Mountain foothills and forced the cancellation of more than 600 flights in Denver before heading east toward the central plains.
Blizzard conditions hit the eastern Colorado plains, with 5-foot drifts in parts of Elbert County. Snow was still falling Friday night, with another 2 to 4 inches expected in Denver and northeastern Colorado.
Snow was expected to taper off Saturday as the storm moved east.
Near-zero visibility forced officials to close all 160 miles of westbound Interstate 70 between the Kansas state line and Denver. A 70-mile stretch of eastbound I-70 from Denver to the plains town of Limon (LYE-min) also was closed. Highway officials said the freeway would likely remain closed overnight Friday.
Agate, a small town on the closed section of I-70, reported more than 2 feet of snow by Friday night and winds gusting to 25 mph. Other towns in eastern Colorado reported more than a foot of snow and similar wind speeds.
A winter storm warning was issued for a broad swath of the plains from northeastern Colorado, across Nebraska and northeastern Kansas and into southeastern Iowa. A blizzard warning was lifted in Colorado but remained for four counties in western Nebraska.
A band of heavy snow stalled over Nebraska, dumping nearly 13 inches in some spots.
The snow was a welcome boost to several ski resorts that have suffered below-average snowfall this season. But while Echo Mountain and other resorts close to Denver celebrated up to 14 inches of new snow, the storm only dusted larger resorts, such as Vail, with a few inches in the central Colorado mountains.
"It's been fantastic," said Scott Gales, a spokesman for Echo Mountain about 25 miles west of Denver. "We only had about 26 or 27 inches this morning. Now we're over 40 and it's still snowing at the rate of an inch or two an hour."
The Colorado Avalanche Information Center issued warnings for slopes east of the Continental Divide until noon Saturday, saying 2 feet or more of new snow could easily overrun the weak, existing snow pack.
In the foothills west of Denver, parts of I-70 were down to one lane, and chain laws were in effect throughout the mountains.
Most travelers apparently heeded storm and blizzard warnings. A few trucks were involved in crashes — none serious — on I-70, and Denver traffic was relatively smooth on Friday, said Gene Towne of the Colorado Department of Transportation.
"The accident situation hasn't really been that bad except the usual fender-benders we have during the evening commute," Towne said.
Some 600 flights were canceled at Denver International Airport, which averages 1,700 flights daily. Southwest Airlines, a key carrier at the airport, cancelled all of its flights for most of the day but resumed them late Friday.
Near Denver, snowfall amounts ranged from nearly 4 feet in the Pinecliffe area to 18 inches near Boulder and 14 inches in the capital city itself.
For many ranchers in drought-stressed eastern Colorado, the storm brought much-needed relief.
"Basically, this storm is going to be a real blessing because of the moisture," said Scott Johnson, who owns the Flying Diamond ranch near Kit Carson, about 130 miles southeast of Denver.
The Flying Diamond got 3 to 4 inches of snow, which was preceded by rain. Some of Johnson's other ranchland got a foot of snow.
Other ranchers' cattle were giving birth as the storm hit.
"Anything that was calving we moved in the barn," said Skylar Houston, a partner at the Aristocrat Angus Ranch about 35 miles north of Denver. Ranch hands had to feed other cattle because they couldn't graze through 6-inch snow, Houston said.
In Alaska, transportation officials urging motorists in the state's largest city to stay home over the weekend if they can so roads can be cleared as another winter storm blasted Anchorage.
The city was expected to get 6 to 10 inches of snow, with up to 15 inches on the city's upper hillside, said Dan Peterson, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Anchorage.
Click here to have the print version of the Craig Daily Press delivered to your home.