DENVER — An early blast of winter that blanketed some western states with heavy snow slowly worked its way out of Colorado and pushed into Nebraska on Thursday, bringing blizzard conditions to the eastern Colorado plains, causing treacherous roads, closing schools and canceling hundreds of flights.
The fall storm spread 3 feet of snow and left much higher drifts across parts of northern Utah, Wyoming and Colorado, before its leading edge hit western Nebraska and brushed Kansas and South Dakota.
Wind-driven snow built to blizzard conditions over much of eastern Colorado on Thursday. The weather service warned that most area roads would be impassable Thursday night because of blowing snow and near-zero visibility.
"Big storms like these, they seem to come around every 10 to 12 years," said Kyle Fredin, a National Weather Service meteorologist.
The heaviest snowfall in the Denver area in a decade forced the closure of hundreds of schools and businesses. Roads across the region remained snowpacked and icy.
Denver-based Frontier Airlines said it canceled 44 flights in and out of Denver International Airport. Other flights were delayed by up to four hours. United Airlines, the airport's dominant carrier, with about 400 flights a day, canceled half its flights Thursday to prevent delays and cancellations from spilling over into today, spokesman Charlie Hobart said.
Airport spokesman Chuck Cannon said crews were using 174 pieces of snow-removal equipment to keep runways and taxiways clear as they dealt with severe wind gusts. Cannon said two departure and two arrival runways were open. The airport, east of Denver, received at least 16 inches of snow with 5-foot snowdrifts, the weather service said.
The Colorado Department of Transportation closed a 140-mile stretch of I-70 from near Denver to Burlington and 55 miles of I-76 from Lochbuie to Fort Morgan. Plows struggled to keep up with the blowing snow, said CDOT spokesman Bob Wilson.
No serious accidents were reported, likely because shuttered businesses meant fewer cars on the road, Wilson said.
The storm began Tuesday and broke records for total October snowfall for Wyoming. It was the biggest October snowmaker in the Denver area since 1997, said Byron Louis, a weather service hydrologist in Boulder.
Kansas was expected to get off easier. Its three northwestern-most counties remained under a winter weather advisory Thursday evening, and National Weather Service meteorologist Kelly James said some areas could get 3 to 4 inches of snow overnight.