Big snow comes as a bigger surprise

Times Staff Writer

Just after Thanksgiving, climatologist Klaus Wolter released his long-term forecast for this region. The next few months, he said, would be warm and dry. No big snows until at least late February.


Denver and smaller communities along the front range of the Rockies hunkered under a thick padding of snow and ice Friday, buried by the second monster storm in a week, with more expected overnight. Colorado Gov. Bill Owens declared a statewide disaster.

Hundreds of flights at Denver International Airport were canceled, and major highways were temporarily shut down, including a 200-mile stretch of Interstate 70 into Kansas. All Greyhound bus trips out of Denver were canceled.

And, under leaden skies, residents grimly shoveled out. Again.

"It's been a tough week," Denver Councilwoman Rosemary Rodriguez said.

From his office at the University of Colorado in Boulder, Wolter tried to explain where his forecast had gone wrong.

"I wish I could say I was misquoted," he said. Instead, he could only conclude that Mother Nature had pulled a fast one. Scouring meteorological records, Wolter found that it's been at least a century since the region has been hit with back-to-back storms of this intensity. "It's unprecedented," he said.

Up in mountain resort towns such as Aspen and Vail, skiers had a different word for the double-barreled blast: phenomenal.

"The ski conditions are fantastic," said Molly Cuffe of the trade group Colorado Ski Country USA.

The latest storm was less paralyzing than the Christmas week blizzard because it came in waves, with a foot or more of snow Thursday and several additional inches expected Friday night and today. The lulls in between gave plows a chance to catch up. Also, the wind was mild -- nothing like the powerful gusts of last week, which tossed the snow around so ferociously that airport runways could not be kept clear.

Still, there inevitably were disruptions. Unable to get fuel deliveries, gas stations across the city and suburbs were shut down Friday. Many grocery stores were out of staples, their dairy cases empty and bread shelves bare.

The Denver Agency for Human Rights rounded up dozens of volunteers to take boxes filled with tuna, peanut butter and soup to the homebound. Other volunteers shoveled senior citizens' driveways, hoping to clear paths so that medical suppliers could stick to their schedules for delivering oxygen tanks.

Maxine Mager could have used some of that volunteer spirit at her sanctuary for abandoned animals, Creative Acres, in Brighton, Colo. She spent Christmas week clearing paths through 4-foot drifts deposited by the first blizzard so she could get to the barns to feed and water her 350 horses, peacocks, pigs and other animals. By Thursday afternoon, the paths had been obliterated by more than a foot of new snow. The animals' shed roofs were leaking. And two roosters -- Buddy and Romeo -- were dead.

Mager had already taken every animal she could into the warmth of her home.

"There's a chicken in my shower," she said. The rabbits huddled by the toilet. The turkeys took over a sun room normally reserved for cats. The iguanas, ferrets, chinchillas and hedgehogs made room for a few stray pigs.

"Everybody gets along," Mager said. She, however, was exhausted and frostbitten, as she had to trek through the snow several times a day to clean out the barns where the bigger animals lived. "I've been going from 6 a.m. to 8:30 p.m.," she said. "I never give up on these animals."

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