Rockies, Western Plains Hit With Heavy Snow, Blizzard Conditions

Mar 15, 2021, 6:45 AM | Updated: 7:11 am
A snowplow clears streets of heavy snow during a winter storm in Boulder, Colorado, U.S., on Saturd...
A snowplow clears streets of heavy snow during a winter storm in Boulder, Colorado, U.S., on Saturday, March 13, 2021. (Chet Strange/Bloomberg/Getty Images)
(Chet Strange/Bloomberg/Getty Images)

The Rocky Mountains and western Plains were hit with heavy snow and blizzard conditions from a powerful storm system that earlier unleashed violent tornadoes in Texas over the weekend.

More than 7 million Americans remain under winter weather alerts Monday morning, with just over 100,000 of them under blizzard warnings, according to CNN meteorologist Michael Guy.

Denver and surrounding areas saw heavy snow and strong winds throughout Sunday.

Colorado Gov. Jared Polis’ office said Sunday that all state government offices in Denver and surrounding counties will be closed Monday because of the extreme weather conditions.

Essential state facilities for public health and safety will remain open and essential personnel will still report to work, according to a release from the office.

“Snow will continue throughout the day and into the night, and Coloradans are strongly encouraged to avoid Sunday night travel unless absolutely necessary,” the release said.

Record snowfalls

There were more than 27 inches of snow reported at Denver International Airport as of midnight, according to a tweet from the National Weather Service Boulder office. The agency said that would likely be close to the final count as the storm was winding down.

This makes the period from March 13-14, 2021, as the second snowiest on record for the month of March, said CNN meteorologist Gene Norman.

It is also the top five highest snowfalls for the city of Denver, according to CNN meteorologist Michael Guy.

Cheyenne, Wyoming, had measured 25.8 inches of snow by Sunday afternoon, which sets a new two-day snowfall total, Norman said. The prior record of 25.2 inches was set in November 1979. By Sunday evening another 11 inches of snow had fallen in the area.

Boulder saw about 8 to 12 inches of snow, and the town of Estes Park has had just over a foot.

The Colorado Avalanche Information Center said there is a “high” avalanche threat for the Front Range until Monday morning. Heavy and intense snowfall from the current storm will cause large and destructive avalanches at all elevation levels, above and below the tree line, and in “unusual locations,” according to the center.

The National Weather Service in Boulder reported moderate to heavy snow and poor travel conditions early Sunday from north of Denver to the Wyoming border.

The blowing snow and poor visibility shut down runways at Denver International Airport (DIA), and more than 2,000 flights into and out of Denver this weekend have been canceled.

All airlines have ceased operations out of the airport for the remainder of Sunday, according to a release from DIA, with delays and cancellations expected to continue on Monday.

DIA has also advised people not to travel by motor vehicle to the airport due to blizzard conditions that have made Peña Boulevard, the main road to the airport, “impassable with multiple disabled vehicles along the roadways.”

Across Colorado, several major roads are also closed, including two stretches of interstates.

Southeast of Denver, the County of Elbert has declared a state of emergency due to worsening weather conditions, a tweet from the county’s public information officer said.

“Please be advised that abandoned vehicles that impede snow clearance and rescue operations may be towed or otherwise moved to allow emergency crews to ensure the safety of our citizens,” the tweet said.

Leadville, Colorado, reported more than 10 inches of snow early Sunday while the town of Sawpit also saw nearly 10 inches of snow, according to snowfall totals posted by the National Weather Service.

The snow, coupled with high winds, could mean that parts of Wyoming, Nebraska and South Dakota will see blizzard conditions, making travel in those areas next to impossible, according to Mauldin.

Uinta County, Wyoming, could see snowfall totals of 1 to 2 feet, the weather service from Salt Lake City projected. As of Sunday evening, there had been 6 inches in the lower elevations of the county and just over 13 inches in the mountains.

A winter storm warning for the western Uinta Mountains and Uinta County, Wyoming, has been lifted.

Southeast could see flood concerns

Meanwhile, flood watches and warnings were in effect for areas of Kansas and Missouri, while heavy rain was impacting parts of Nebraska and Iowa.

“Be on lookout for localized flooding of typical flood-prone areas,” the weather service in Wichita, Kansas, wrote on Twitter.

As the storm system moves east over the next day or two, the Southeast could also face flood concerns.

Parts of Alabama and Georgia could see between 2 and 4 inches of rain Monday and Tuesday.

The weather service in Atlanta warned “multiple rounds” of rain and storms were expected Monday through Thursday with rainfall totals hitting 2-3 inches.

Tornado damage reported in Texas

In Texas, Randall County Sheriff Christopher Forbis warned Saturday evening of multiple downed power lines and baseball-sized hail soon after the National Weather Service in Amarillo reported two simultaneous tornadoes in the area.

Saturday night, the sheriff said parts of the county had seen “extensive tornado damage” but no injuries had been reported.

There were 40 preliminary severe storm reports on Saturday, 11 of which were tornadoes, according to Mauldin.

Severe weather threats shifted to Arkansas on Sunday, where showers and strong thunderstorms were forecast throughout the afternoon and evening, according to the National Weather Service in Little Rock.

“Damaging winds will remain the primary threat, but an isolated tornado cannot be completely ruled out,” the service said early Sunday.

Tornado potential was very low, officials said. Wind speeds could reach up to 60 mph, according to the service, while parts of the state may see up to quarter-sized hail.

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Rockies, Western Plains Hit With Heavy Snow, Blizzard Conditions