Colorado weather: A deep freeze is coming. Here’s what you need to know

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Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite
Not-quite-snow covers a Mar Lee window as a tree’s autumn hues burn in the cold, grey morning. Oct. 27, 2022.

Updated 7:51 p.m.

Gov. Jared Polis has activated more than 100 Colorado National Guard members to help with extreme cold weather operations. The declaration comes as the state and local governments prepare for this week's arctic temperatures.

“Colorado’s National Guard is up to the challenge whether it’s helping distribute the life-saving vaccine or responding to wildfires across our state,” Polis said. “Colorado is about to face extreme weather and cold temperatures and the Guard is ready to assist local communities to help keep people safe during this extreme cold weather snap.”

The declaration mobilizes state resources and puts into motion the State Emergency Operations Plan, the Colorado State Emergency Operations Center and the Office of Emergency Management. 

The Front Range will be hit by some of the coldest weather it has seen in decades, according to the National Weather Service.

Dangerous wind chill is expected to make it feel as frigid as minus 35 degrees. In areas of the Eastern Plains it could feel as cold as minus 60 degrees.

“Even though the temperature is minus 15 degrees, if the winds are 30 mph, the wind chill would be somewhere around minus 35,” said weather service meteorologist Russell Danielson. 

Stay inside. If you have to go out, layer up

The weather outside will be frightful on Thursday. Frightfully cold.

The best advice: Stay inside. 

But we know that's not always possible. If you have to go out, follow this advice from our friends on some northern airwaves.

Sven Sundgaard, meteorologist with Minnesota Public Radio, said it’s important to dress in layers.

"There's no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing," Sundgaard said, repeating the common Midwesterner advice. 

"Because the way we keep warm is by forming pockets of air between us and the outside air,” Sundgaard said. “And that's what insulation really is, and that's what allows us to lose heat less quickly.” 

A big hat, a down coat or wool are great ideas because they provide air pockets and insulations, Sundgaard said. Cover up as much skin as possible, maybe pack hand and feet warmers just in case. But he warned not to overdo it. 

“Sometimes people will overdo it and if you're sweating,” Sundgaard said. “You don't wanna be wet and then be in a cold situation too."

If you're hitting the road, it's good to be prepared for the worst.

Commuters and travelers should prepare for potential flash freezing on the roads, especially on Interstate 70. 

The cold snap will sweep through the state at a time when roads are busy with shoppers and delivery drivers, and motorists are crowding I-70 ahead of a holiday weekend at mountain ski resorts.

Colorado Department of Transportation officials said sub-zero temperatures rapidly freeze any surface moisture, which could create icy conditions. Still, the agency doesn’t expect the arctic weather to directly affect the state’s network of roads, highways and bridges.

"If you have to be out, you really need to be careful. It's incredibly important that your car is in good working condition, that it's well-maintained, and that your batteries are in good shape," said Tamara Rollison with CDOT.

Road crews on Tuesday were able to pre-treat some troublesome spots in the Denver metro with anti-icing compounds, including bridges, overpasses and shady areas on major routes. 

The agency is also urging motorists to bring along a blanket, water, flashlight and other winter essentials in case they have mechanical issues or are stuck for an extended time.

“They need to be prepared to survive this incredibly, dangerously cold weather,” Rollison said. "That would include battery chargers, gloves, hats, water, all the essentials, should they get stuck."

The Regional Transportation District is monitoring the weather and preparing crews to respond to any problems, but spokesperson Marta Sipeki said the agency’s buses and light-rail trains are designed to operate in sub-zero temperatures.

How to (mostly) cold-proof your home

The deep freeze can cause thousands of dollars of damage to property if residents aren’t careful.

Outside, make sure you disconnect any hoses from their bibs — that’s where the valve is on the wall — so that they can drain any water out. If you're staying at home, you can help keep exposed pipes from freezing by wrapping them to insulate them from the cold. It’s especially important to keep your pipes from freezing and bursting if you’re leaving town for the holiday. 

"A deep freeze can cause major damage to your home,” said Carole Walker, with the Rocky Mountain Insurance Association. “It can be very costly, tens of thousands of dollars and lead to major damage and major headaches around your house."

Walker said that it is helpful to leave some water dripping from faucets. That keeps water going through those pipes and not stuck in one place where it can freeze. She also suggested keeping gutters clear to prevent an ice dam, or when a ridge of ice forms at the edge of a roof and prevents melting snow from draining off the roof.

Once temperatures drop drastically Wednesday night, be prepared if the power goes out. Heating your home with a gas stovetop, oven or grill is not recommended. Candles can also be a fire hazard, so use flashlights and extra batteries. And make sure that smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors are working.

What about people without a home?

For those experiencing homelessness in Denver, the city plans to use the Denver Coliseum as a warming shelter. More details on other plans to help the unhoused are expected Wednesday.

Denver Rec Centers and libraries will also be open during normal hours Thursday and Friday.

Community organizations in Colorado Springs and Pueblo are providing shelter as the region braces for extremely cold and life-threatening weather.

The Red Cross will open an emergency warming shelter at Sanctuary Church on the west side of the city after 5 p.m. Wednesday. The Springs Rescue Mission has also expanded its shelter’s capacity.

In Pueblo, the city's Transit Center will stay open as a warming shelter starting night Thursday until Saturday. Places of worship — like churches and mosques — can also serve as temporary shelters in Pueblo.

Here's a map of warming centers and shelters up and down the eastern side of the state.

Double-check your plans — wherever you’re going might be closed

The extreme cold is impacting outdoor holiday markets and other festivities.  

After following this storm for the past week, the Denver Center for the Performing Arts Off-Center notified ticket holders they have canceled "Camp Christmas" on Thursday.

Producer Charlie Miller says they are helping those with tickets to reschedule.  

“We've added some extra VIP tours so that the people who had a tour with camp Director Lonnie or a Drag Queen VIP tour can still get to experience that one of the other nights this week,” Miller said.

Miller added that since the DCPA has been hosting the outdoor event, they’ve learned a lot about being flexible and nimble. 

“It's been pretty conclusive in all of the reports that we've seen that this cold will be significant. And so it's important to us to keep everyone safe and warm,” Miller said. 

The producers at Cherry Creek Holiday Market have also decided to close Thursday.

Production manager Kenny Nelson says the group is exploring how to reschedule entertainers who were to perform Thursday.

“We are actually looking into that right now with our music coordinator, potentially, moving them onto another warmer day — whether it's a day that doesn't normally have music or a day where we'll have two live acts,” Nelson said. “So we're definitely looking into that as a possibility.”

Organizers of the Denver Christkindlmarket will also close the market for one day on Thursday.

It will reopen for its final day of the season on Friday and will be open from 11 a.m. until 9 p.m. 

Also, there’s no propane shortage

Petroleum companies are in discussions with the Colorado State Patrol to change regulations to allow truckers to put in longer hours to ensure delivery of propane and other home heating fuels. For now, there’s no risk of Colorado running out of propane, but it could be more challenging to get it where it needs to be. 

“Those rules are in place mainly so that fatigue for our drivers doesn’t constitute an unnecessary risk,” said Grier Bailey with the Colorado Wyoming Petroleum Marketers Association. “We’re assessing supply dynamics in Colorado and seeing what that looks like from a public safety perspective.” 

Troy Kessler with the Colorado State Patrol said they are working toward temporarily waving the rules.  

“This week, with such extreme temperatures coming in and looking at what other state partners are doing, we are opting to take similar action,” Kessler said. “Any kind of waiver that we grant does not supersede the driver’s need to drive safely. If they find themselves fatigued we still want them to pull over and not endanger their or someone else’s life.” 

It’s not unusual for these regulations to be waived in winter, but the coming cold spell means it’s happening earlier than usual this year.

Editor's Note: A previous version of this story misattributed a quote about propane truck driver fatigue.