Historic snowstorm hits western US, thousands of flights cancelled

Denver, Mar 14 (efe-epa).- A winter storm being called “historic” for the amount of snow it is dumping on Sunday lashed the Rocky Mountain and northern US prairie states, causing road and airport closures and affecting some 30 million people.

In Colorado and Wyoming, the two states that are bearing the brunt of the storm and its heavy load of snow, some 25 centimeters (about 10 inches) of the white stuff are expected by the end of the day in urban zones and double that amount in areas near the mountains, with the possibility of an unprecedented 65 cm (26 in.) in Cheyenne, Wyoming.

As the hours pass, the low pressure system moving through the area from the west will continue hitting the eastern slopes of the Rocky Mountains and coming up against a high pressure system and humid air that is moving northwards from the Gulf of Mexico, and as a result the storm will intensify and expand.

The National Weather Service said in a statement that “Historic and crippling winter storms will significantly impact all of southeast Wyoming and the western Nebraska panhandle,” adding that “Widespread blizzard conditions” are making travel “dangerous or impossible.”

Although in Colorado, Wyoming, Nebraska and South Dakota heavy snow will accumulate and winds will increase, in eastern Colorado and Nebraska and sectors of Kansas and Oklahoma – among other areas – thunderstorms, hailstorms and tornadoes will develop, with two twisters already hitting northern Texas on Saturday.

Colorado and Wyoming closed Interstate 25, which traverses the two states from north to south, as well as Interstate 70 in Colorado and I-80 and I-90 in Wyoming, all three of which run east to west.

During the day the authorities will work to temporarily reopen certain sectors of highway to prevent motorists from being stranded along those routes.

At the same time, the Denver International Airport, the largest air terminal in the region, cancelled some 2,000 flights not due to difficulties in continuing operations – given that the airport is prepared to respond to these kinds of winter storms – but rather because of the difficulties airport personnel, including pilots, are having in getting in to work.

When on Sunday afternoon the “dangerous” storm reaches its maximum extension, it will cover the zone between the Mississippi River to the east and the Rocky Mountains to the west, putting “lives and property” at risk, according to Alex Sosnowski, the chief meteorologist with AccuWeather.

Although so far no deaths from the storm have been reported, expectations are that it will cause enormous losses of cattle in Wyoming and destroy whole crop harvests in eastern Colorado, as well as in sections of Kansas and Nebraska.

The storm was delayed a bit in its anticipated arrival on Saturday but the result has been that it is now much more intense and will beset the region for longer than originally expected, according to Shoshana Lew, the executive director of the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) in prepared remarks sent to EFE.

According to the Web site, because the storm has brought down trees and branches, some 33,000 people in northern Colorado and another 2,250 in southern Wyoming are currently without power.

But things will get worse on Sunday night after sunset and considerably more snow and colder temperatures will make roadways extraordinarily hazardous or outright impassable, according to CDOT operations director John Lorme.

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