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Colorado’s ‘bomb cyclone’ lived up to the hype, keeping even the most hardy people indoors

“Bomb cyclone” went from goofy meteorological term to serious business Wednesday as a turbocharged blizzard walloped Colorado’s mountains, Front Range and Eastern Plains with hurricane-force wind gusts, heavy snow and general misery.
Gov. Jared Polis declared an emergency after the storm stranded motorists, forced massive highway and road closures across the state, halted air travel at Denver International Airport, cut power to more than 200,000 homes and businesses , disrupted public transportation services and sent trees falling across the metro area.
Life should begin returning to normal Thursday morning, though the storm’s effects will persist as Xcel Energy works to restore power to thousands. And several large metro school districts — including Denver, Cherry Creek, Jeffco, Douglas County, Littleton and Westminster — called off classes and activities for another day.
Polis’ statewide declaration resulted in the activation of the Colorado National Guard, making its units available to rescue stranded motorists and for search, rescue and life-safety operations. Hours earlier, the storm had turned deadly after a Colorado State Patrol trooper who was responding to a slide-off on Interstate 76 in rural Weld County was struck by another driver who apparently had lost control of his vehicle.
In Denver, where police reported 125 crashes on city streets throughout the day, a separate emergency declaration by Mayor Michael Hancock will last for up to seven days.
“We are seeing improving conditions, (and) the brunt of the storm is moving east of Interstate 25 and east of Denver,” National Weather Service meteorologist Jim Kalina said about 5:30 p.m., but he warned: “Winds will still be strong.”
Northeastern Colorado still faced a blizzard warning through noon Thursday, and the weather service warned against travel on the roads Wednesday night. East of Denver, Interstate 70 was to remain closed to the Kansas border overnight, while, south of the city, state officials planned to keep Interstate 25 closed overnight between Lone Tree and Colorado Springs.
In the mountains, the heavy snow brought the return of avalanche warnings across a swath of central mountains from north to south that had experienced record snow slides in the previous week.
A crew from Arvada Water and Construction move a large tree blocking Ward Road at 69th Avenue in Arvada as the bomb cyclone sweeps into the Denver metro area March 13, 2019. 
Snowfall totals vary widely
Along the Front Range, the storm largely delivered on meteorologists’ dire forecasts of wind gusts of up to 80 mph or more, though snowfall totals varied starkly .
The weather service office in Boulder cited snow reports ranging from 20 inches in Nederland, and nearly as much in several foothills communities, to just 6 inches in Denver by 4 p.m., as the storm drifted out of the metro area. Some places got even less.
The day began innocently enough in the city, with driving rain and light wind gusts.
“I’m waiting for the hype,” said Rob Roberts, 38, from his front porch in northwest Denver as he considered driving to work at Buckley Air Force Base in Aurora, skeptical of taking a snow day. “It’s a big to-do for what looks like slushy rain so far.”
A short time later, big flakes began falling — and then flying, as the wind whipped. It was just the beginning.
Colorado experienced a bombogenesis event — colloquially called a bomb cyclone — of the sort that’s more common on the East Coast. If the barometric pressure drops rapidly enough in a 24-hour period, it turns a winter storm into a cyclone with intense winds, according to Weather Nation meteorologist Chris Bianchi, who was among those sounding the alarm ahead of Wednesday’s storm.
“It’s obviously a very rare circumstance for this to happen in Colorado,” said Bianchi, also a Denver Post contributor.
The early conditions were equivalent to a Category 1 hurricane, the National Weather Service said. In some places — especially to the northeast and east of Denver and near the Palmer Divide — it quickly got even worse as snow fell at the rate of nearly 2 inches per hour in some places.
A truck driver heads back to his truck after eating at Country Pride Restaurant on March 13, 2019, in Limon. He and others are stuck in Limon after CDOT closed all roads out of town. 
Sweeping tractor-trailers sideways
But the wind was the main event, as fast-forming ice and whiteout conditions rendered roadways hazardous.
Before noon, the trouble became apparent as drivers ignored warnings and attempted to navigate a slushy and ice-covered I-70 east of Aurora. High winds made the highway invisible at times and, near the highway’s closure point at Airpark Road, swept at least a dozen tractor-trailers sideways, blocking the interstate.
The winds were so strong that they snapped the metal posts of a sign marking the exit. Nearby, speed limit signs were bent in half, while traffic lights — some no longer functional — bobbed in the wind on their thick metal beams.
At Denver International Airport, moderate snowfall blown by wind gusts reaching 80 mph or more forced the closure of all six runways by the afternoon — for only the fourth time in DIA’s 24-year history — and littered Peña Boulevard with wrecks that brought traffic to a standstill, stranding some motorists for hours. While the concourses and terminal stayed open, they effectively served as massive warming huts.

Earlier wind reports to the weather service included hurricane-strength gusts of 92 mph in Glen Haven in Larimer County and 77 mph in Bennet, but the wind was fierce across the Front Range and Eastern Plains.
Major closures affected interstates 70 and 76 on the Eastern Plains, I-70 in the mountains, I-25 south of Denver and north of Fort Collins, and many mountain passes. In Weld County, both the Colorado Department of Transportation and county plows gave up on clearing roads by mid-afternoon, due to low visibility, according to Fort Lupton Fire.
To the south of the metro area, several shelters filled in Douglas County in the afternoon as authorities rescued stranded motorists. Vehicles got stuck in snow drifts between Larkspur and Monument, prompting rescues by Colorado State Patrol.
And about 100 vehicles were stranded mid-afternoon on Highway 86 between Kiowa and Elizabeth, authorities said, as local firefighters used four-wheel-drive vehicles to reach them one by one. The storm also affected the Colorado Springs area, where authorities said city police and El Paso County sheriff’s deputies were attempting to reach about 1,000 stranded drivers.
More than 20 emergency operations centers opened Wednesday along the Front Range. More than two dozen shelters were opened up, too.
As they aided in the rescues, state troopers were mourning the death of one of their own, Cpl. Daniel Groves, 52. While he was at the scene of the slide-off on I-76 just west of Roggen, he was hit by a 2001 Volvo driven by John Carpenter, 58, of Centennial, according to the state patrol.
Groves was taken to Platte Valley Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead. Carpenter also was injured and taken to the medical center with moderate injuries. The state patrol said it was investigating high speed in poor driving conditions as a possible cause of the fatal crash.
A pedestrian walks past an out building in Washington Park at Exposition Avenue where a large tree snapped in half and fell during a blizzard March 13, 2019. 
Downed trees and power lines
In Aurora, Denver and other cities, wind and fallen trees brought down power and utility lines.
Xcel Energy said 500 employees and contractors were working feverishly to respond. Still, utility officials expected a “multi-day recovery effort,” and at 10 p.m., Xcel reported 121,270 customers still without power in its large coverage area, due to 2,214 separate outages; the utility said it restored service to about 287,000 customers throughout the day.
“We were managing things okay,” Xcel spokesman Mark Stutz said, “but then we ran into this almost historic jump up (in outages) in such a short period of time.”
Spotty power also affected at least five hospitals in the metro area and Pueblo that said they were operating at some point Wednesday on backup generators .
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The storm brought many other disruptions, including to the Regional Transportation District, which suspended its free downtown MallRide for several hours as regular bus routes and rail lines experienced significant delays. The University of Colorado A Line to the airport also experienced significant service lags, and at one point, A Line trains were stalled near the airport because of a frozen switch.
Colorado State University postponed its two-day Water in the West Symposium, which had been set to begin Wednesday at the Gaylord Rockies Resort and Convention Center near DIA, because event speakers and some attendees couldn’t fly in.
But give points to organizers of the Cherry Creek Sneak, a mid-April road running race, for seizing on the opportunity to offer a single-day blizzard sale, with 5 percent off registration.
Linda Hurth, in the driver’s seat, looks at her husband Ed McCaffrey, right, through the side view mirror trying to tell him when to push to try to get her car unstuck from near their driveway on March 13, 2019, in Nederland. 
Some braved the roads
Around the Denver area, life continued apace in some ways, though with plenty of accommodations. Coffee shops were popular, and warm, places to wait out the storm, but several shopping malls closed early.
Countless workers stayed home, either working remotely or taking advantage of the snow day.
Then there were the hardy who trudged through the blizzard.
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Wendy Svenson’s commute from her Green Mountain home in Lakewood to her job in Evergreen typically takes about 20 minutes and skirts the normal rush-hour patterns. She went to work Wednesday morning with little problem but was sent home early, just after noon.
It took an hour to make the white-knuckle drive back home in her four-wheel-drive Jeep Cherokee.
“It was scary as hell,” Svenson said.
She had a hard time distinguishing the lanes, and other drivers took it slow, many of them driving in the middle to keep from running off the road in the mountainous area. “It was hard to tell where the road was and where it dropped off,” she said.
Her home on Green Mountain overlooks Beech Park, which has a popular sledding hill.
“There’s no one sledding today,” she said.

Denver Post staff writers Kieran Nicholson, Jessica Seaman, Elise Schmelzer, Sam Tabachnik, Saja Hindi and Kirk Mitchell contributed to this story.

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