Heavy snow causes travel mayhem across Rockies and Midwest

Francis Garza, Tina Longoria shovel snow at University of Northern Colorado
University of Northern Colorado staff members Francis Garza, left, and Tina Longoria shovel snow on campus Tuesday during a winter storm in Greeley.
(Alex McIntyre / The Greeley Tribune)

A storm dumping heavy snow buried highways in Colorado and Wyoming on Tuesday, prompted school closures in Nebraska and caused more than 1,000 people to spend the night in Denver’s airport after hundreds of flights were canceled just as the busy Thanksgiving week travel period went into high gear.

That storm was heading toward South Dakota, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin.

At Denver International Airport, about 7 inches was on the ground by Tuesday morning with more expected in the afternoon. Windy conditions reduced visibility, prompting the cancellation of about 30% of the airport’s average daily 1,600 flights.

About 1,100 travelers spent the night at the airport, including many cadets from the Air Force Academy near Colorado Springs who either missed flights or wanted to get to the airport before road conditions deteriorated, said airport spokeswoman Alex Renteria.


Airport workers handed out blankets, diapers, baby formula, toothbrushes and toothpaste to the airline passengers who camped out for the night on floors and in chairs. Officials said they were hopeful that flight conditions would be back to normal by the afternoon.

By midmorning, more than 2 feet of snow had fallen in northern Colorado and about a foot in southern parts of Wyoming — spurring the closures of long stretches of Interstates 70 and 76 in Colorado and Interstate 80 in Wyoming. Parts of I-80 were buried under snowdrifts of up to 4 feet, officials said.

“We are mindful that this is a holiday travel week, and we are working as fast and as quickly as possible to reopen the roads,” said Wyoming Department of Transportation spokeswoman Aimee Inama. “We will do that once the roads are safe for travelers,”


Many government offices in the Denver area and in Cheyenne, Wyo., closed along with colleges and schools not already on holiday break. In Nebraska, several school districts canceled classes Wednesday, and the southwestern city of Sidney had received about 8 inches of snow. George Lapaseotes, the city’s airport manager, said he spent much of the morning clearing the runway in case it was needed for medical emergency flights.

Blizzard and wintry weather warnings extended into the Great Lakes states, with the storm expected to bring high winds and snow to Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin later Tuesday and a chance of snow over the weekend for parts of New England, said Alex Lamers, a National Weather Service meteorologist.

“That could be a coast-to-coast storm,” he said.

It also could mean disappointment for fans of the larger-than-life balloons flown at Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York.


Organizers were preparing for the possibility of grounding the iconic balloon characters because of 40- to 50-mph gusts in the forecast. Rules put in place after several people were injured by a balloon years ago require lower altitudes or full removal if sustained winds exceed 23 mph and gusts exceed 34 mph. The decision will be made on parade day.

The Minneapolis-St. Paul metropolitan area could see its biggest November snowfall in nearly a decade, and travel in northwestern Wisconsin “is going to be chaotic,” said National Weather Service meteorologist Brent Hewett.

The Minneapolis airport could be hit by snow, but Chicago and its two big airports should only see rain from the storm, weather service officials said.