The Bomb Cyclone On Wednesday: Road Closures, Cold Cattle and Power Outages Expected To Last All Night

Hart Van Denburg/CPR News
Heavy wet snow driven by powerful winds whipped around downtown Denver on Wednesday March, 13 2019 as the Bomb Cyclone blizzard moved in. On the 16th Street Mall, shuttle bus service was suspended.

Update, Thursday morning: We're following along again this morning. Get the latest right here.

Wednesday: The winter storm is here and it’s going by a lot of different names right now -- somebody out there is trying to get us to call it “Ulmer” — but the National Weather Service says we can now officially call it a bomb cyclone. Meteorologists told CPR News Tuesday that it’d be one of the most intense storms Colorado has ever seen.

Crashes and weather conditions are closing roads all over the state. RTD's buses and trains are experiencing delays due to weather and power outages. Xcel has had tens of thousands of customers without power today. The vast majority of flights at DIA have been canceled. Shelters in Denver have been opening unusually early to help people experiencing homelessness.

You might want to watch some of these resources.

Here's what we're seeing and hearing today.

5:21 p.m.: We're closing down this live blog.

Thanks for following along today. Our full story is here. You'll also hear much more about the storm and its effects tomorrow morning on CPR, and I happen to know there are some interesting guests and a deeper look at the impacts on the eastern plains tomorrow on Colorado Matters at 9 a.m. You can also sign up for the Lookout to get updates by email tomorrow morning.

Updates from earlier in the day are below.

4:24 p.m.: Colorado State Patrol reports that a trooper died after being hit by a motorist who lost control of his vehicle.

A Colorado State Trooper was killed while responding to a vehicle that had slid off of I-76 in Weld County. CSP said in a press release that Corporal Daniel Groves, 52, died after being hit by another driver who lost control of his vehicle. The case is now under investigation by the Colorado State Patrol.

2:30 p.m.: Xcel is reporting more than 200,000 customers without power.

"I'm guessing there will be many customers without all night at least," somebody tweeted from the official Xcel account.

1:59 p.m.: Denver Mayor Michael Hancock said the city is on full alert for the storm.

"We have a full activation of our emergency operations center," he said while addressing media this afternoon. "We have about 70 plows on the street and overnight we'll activate our residential plows. But we're encouraging residents -- please, do not go out and be on the roads if you do not have to."

He said the storm was what they expected it would be.

"This is Denver. We're used to these kinds of storms once or twice a year."

And the city is actively trying to help people experiencing homelessness to find shelter and support services.

"We're trying to get them indoors in the shelter," Hancock said. "I've also asked all of our police officers on the streets, if they see vulnerable residents, homeless residents, to contact them, try to move them to services."

Kevin J. Beaty

1:49 p.m.: There's so much to read!

Quick reminder — there's a lot here, and if you want the more organized version tomorrow morning, you should sign up for our morning newsletter, The Lookout. You can do that right here.

1:38 p.m.: All runways are closed at DIA.

Terminals and concourses remain open, but Peña Boulevard is a big mess with multiple accidents, according to a press release from the airport.

"The airport has experienced wind gusts near 75 mph today."

1:14 p.m.: We know the roads are bad, we'll learn more soon.

CDOT says we'll get to hear from them during a 2 p.m. conference call "regarding today's blizzard and how it is impacting the state highway system." My own amateur assessment is that it's impacting the state highway system ... a lot.

photo: bomb cyclone map 1 | CDOT closure map at 1:36 p.m.
The winter storm has closed many roads, according to this CDOT road conditions map.

A quick, partial tour of CDOT's road conditions map: I-76 is closed from U.S. 85 to the Nebraska border. I-25 is closed from Ridge Gate Parkway to Monument Hill. I-70 is closed from Tower Road to the Kansas state line. U.S. 36 is also closed from Byers to Kansas. U.S. 160 is closed from Walsenburg to La Veta Pass. I-25 is closed from Wellington to Wyoming. U.S. 287 is closed from Ted's Place to Wyoming. U.S. 85 is closed from Nunn to Wyoming.

So. That's a lot.

Dave Burdick

12:04 p.m.: We're easily over 100,000 power outages.

The Xcel map now shows something like 120,000 customers without power in the metro area alone.

Andrew Villegas

11:53 a.m.: The storm is a big threat to livestock.

In Morgan County, ranchers have been preparing for the storm for days, according to Marlin Eisenach, a livestock agent for the Colorado State University extension service.

“Ranchers have gathered up cattle that were out further in the pasture and (they’ve been) bringing them closer to the house and the barn,” Eisenach said.

But it’s calving season and high winds — predicted to reach 60 miles an hour in the area — will be dangerous for livestock, he said. When the wind’s blowing that hard, he said, it’s hard for people to move around to ensure livestock are fed and protected. “That’s something we take very seriously.”

There are about more than 50,000 cattle on ranchlands and at dairies in the county, and thousands more in feedlots, Eisenach said. There are also sheep, horses and other animals.

Michelle Fulcher

11:46 a.m.: I-25 is closed from County Line to Monument Hill.

CDOT is crediting weather and "multiple crashes." There's not currently an estimated time to reopen.

Andrew Villegas

11:38 a.m.: Denver area shelters gear up in the storm: “We won’t turn anyone away.”

Salvation Army outreach teams were out in blowing snow Wednesday asking people experiencing homelessness whether they wanted to get inside. Overnight shelters in the Denver area were opening early and making extra rooms available.

Donna Bryson

11:36 a.m.: Resupplying in Colorado Springs.

Lainie Fike was walking out of a Colorado Springs Walmart this morning. She had a new snow shovel in her cart, which might have looked odd as we were standing in the rain.

“Well, I drove up to my job in Woodland Park this morning and it was crazy, just heavy snow everywhere,” Fike said. “And, so I booked it down here so I didn’t have to drive through the pass when it was horrible.”

She said she was heading home for the day.

“Yep, got a toy for the cat, got some pizzas. I’m gonna stay in after this,” she said.

Dan Boyce

11:18 a.m.: And more RTD delays.

RTD tweets: "Delays on all light rail lines are increasing due to rolling power outages. Trains are proceeding slowly and making extra safety stops."

11:04 a.m.: Wow a lot more power outages.

Xcel now says 57,000 customers are without power. Here's that outage map.

Andrew Villegas

10:58 a.m.: Be careful on the roads!

Every time we get these kinds of conditions, with warm-ish temps and a lot of slushy snow on the roads, I always think of this Colorado Matters interview, where I learned that these are actually significantly more dangerous driving conditions than if it were colder and the snow was accumulating more.

Megan Verlee

10:48 a.m.: Here's the view at the old Kmart at Monaco and Evans in Denver.

Blowing snow at the old Kmart at Monaco and Evans in Denver.Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite

10:45 a.m.: Power outages.

The Xcel energy map is showing about 15,000 without power in the Denver metro area.

Andrew Villegas

10:43 a.m.: We've got new numbers from the airport.

Nearly 75 percent of flights at DIA are canceled. That's 1181 flights canceled out of around 1600.

Natalia V. Navarro

10:41 a.m.: Now RTD's starting to feel it.

RTD is tweeting that there are currently minor delays on light rail and "increasing" delays for buses.

"Bus routes on 285 will be chaining up, expect major delays. Due to high winds, additional travel time of 15-20 min on all A Line trips."

Also, MallRide buses aren't running right now "due to a low-hanging electric wire along 16th."

Dave Burdick

10:34 a.m.: Shelters, usually open only at night, are working to help people during the day.

Nicole Tschetter, a spokeswoman with the Denver Rescue Mission, said the shelter has been open throughout the day for people. The rescue is working with the city to get people experiencing homelessness inside.

"A lot of times people who typically don't seek shelter do because the temperatures are just so unbearable," she said. "It's really a life or death situation."

— Hayley Sanchez

10 a.m.: Guess what? Air travel's not going to be great today!

The airport just sent this out.

"Snow has started at Denver International Airport (DEN) and DEN is anticipating between seven and 11 inches of snow and strong winds throughout the day. As of 10 a.m. airlines have reported 1,078 cancellations and 45 delays. DEN has been closely monitoring the storm and is deploying over 200 pieces of snow equipment to clear the airfield and Peña Blvd.

"Passengers with scheduled flights today are encouraged to check with their airline to confirm flight status before they come to the airport. Passengers are also encouraged to arrive at least two hours prior to their flight. Additionally, those driving to or from the airport should give themselves plenty of extra time and drive with caution."

9:57 a.m.: It's a bomb cyclone.

Kari Bowen with the National Weather Service in Boulder confirms that we can all now say "bomb cyclone" as if we knew what it meant before Tuesday: Yesterday at around 1 p.m., the pressure was 1002.9 and at 9 this morning it was 979.5. Here's more about that definition.

Natalia V. Navarro

9:27 a.m.: Xcel called in reinforcements.

Mark Stutz, spokesperson for Xcel Colorado, said they've done a bit more prep for this storm than usual because of the severe blizzard forecast.

"We have called in extra operations people throughout the state of Colorado to deal with the anticipated snowstorm," he said. "We have an extra 200 employees waiting to respond to any outage activity, any storm damage, anything of that nature. This includes everyone from dispatchers who help send crews to the right place. We have first responders who will go out and assess any damage if and when it happens. We have tree management crews to take care of any trees or branches that come down. So we're ready for the storm. We're ready to call in more folks if we need to."

Some 10,000 people are currently experiencing outages around the metro area. Very spread out with a small cluster of 1,200 customers in the Arvada-Wheat Ridge area. Their outage map is here.

Natalia V. Navarro

9:02 a.m.: The paid family leave hearing is happening, blizzard or not. (The rally is off.)

The rest of Official Colorado may be closed for the storm today, but the state Senate has vowed to continue business as usual. That means the Business, Labor & Technology Committee will conduct the first public hearing on a bill to create a paid family leave program in the state. The policy is a priority for the Democratic majority, but strongly opposed by many business groups. With much of the Front Range hunkered down awaiting epic snow, it's unclear who will actually show up to share their views on the bill.

A rally originally planned for noon today has been canceled, according to organizers.

— Megan Verlee


“This is going to be one of the lower systems, lower in terms of pressure, that we’ve seen here in Colorado in a very long time, if not ever,” said meteorologist Kari Bowen. “It’s going just contribute to the intensification of what we’re going to expect in terms of wind and snow.”

— Hayley Sanchez

We’ll update throughout the day. Sign up for our free email newsletter for our reporting on the storm and everything else happening in Colorado. Stay safe out there!