Winter storm shuts down stretches of Colorado highways

NOAA West
This NOAA satellite image taken Tuesday, Nov. 17, 2015, at 01:00 AM EDT shows a storm moving into the Pacific Northwest producing areas of heavy rain and mountain snow. The storm is riding along a ridge of high pressure building over California, where dry and warm weather is present. Over the central Plains is a storm developing that is producing severe weather and rain throughout the region. Cold is flowing into the back side of the storm, where it's producing heavy snows for Colorado and western Nebraska. (NOAA/Weather Underground via AP)

DENVER (AP) — Heavy snow and strong winds stranded vehicles and shut down highways east and south of Denver Tuesday while the city itself only got some light snow from a powerful winter storm.

A stretch of Interstate 25 south of Denver near Castle Rock was closed because there were so many vehicles stranded there, including two jack-knifed semi-trailers. Heavy snow and whiteout conditions have also shut down a 76-mile stretch of Interstate 70 from the eastern edge of the Denver area to Limon as well as Interstate 25 near the New Mexico border.

Denver International Airport warned passengers that arriving flights could be delayed up to 90 minutes because the Federal Aviation Administration is slowing down traffic there to prevent longer delays. Those delays could also lead to delayed departures, airport spokesman Heath Montgomery said. Some of the over 100 flights cancelled because of the weather were reinstated after the storm moved out of the Denver area.

The storm brought between 6 and 12 inches of snow to the handful of ski resorts that have opened for the season so far before moving east to Denver and Colorado’s Eastern Plains, where a blizzard warning was in place until 2 p.m. The National Weather Service said wind gusts of up to 60 mph would blow the snow around and decrease visibility before the storm moves into western Kansas later in the day.

The storm that originated in the Gulf of Alaska could be a harbinger of El Nino, the ocean-warming phenomenon that’s predicted to bring heavy rain to the West in the coming months, said Kathy Hoxsie of the National Weather Service.

“It’s the beginning of the winter season,” she said. “We want storms. We want rain. We’ve been projecting that we’re going to have a wet winter and this is a sign that it’s going to happen.”

California in particular is anxiously awaiting winter rains as it seeks relief from its record, four-year drought. Heavy rain will bring some drought relief, but it is not expected to erase the state’s water deficit.

In Central California, a twister Sunday swept through the small town of Denair near Modesto, damaging 21 homes, including one that shifted on its foundation. The tornado toppled trees and fences, broke windows and ripped off part of a church roof.

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