Colorado weather: Dangerous cold has settled over the state

Hart Van Denburg/CPR News
Denver International Airport temperatures dipped to minus 24 degrees Thursday morning, Dec. 22, 2022.

Updated 12/22/2022 at 9:38.

Bitter cold and snow swept across Colorado overnight and through Thursday, leading to more than 500 flight cancellations, more than 700 flight delays, road closures and power outages.

Just before 8 a.m., the National Weather Service reported a temperature of -24 at Denver International Airport, the coldest airport temperature recorded since 1990, and just five degrees from the all-time record. The high on Thursday at DIA was -7 degrees. When combined with the wind and humidity, the windchill temperature was a dangerous -40 at DIA and -41 in Fort Morgan.

Officials suggest staying home Thursday if possible. If you do have to go out, limit your exposure and wear layers. Another frigid night was forecast for Thursday into Friday, with lows between -15 and -20 before a warmup begins for Christmas weekend.

Transportation officials are warning of potential flash freezing on roads, especially along Interstate 70. CDOT said sub-zero temperatures rapidly freeze any surface moisture, which could create icy conditions. The agency spent Tuesday pre-treating troublesome spots in the metro area, including bridges, overpasses and shady areas on major routes.

Travelers are urged to pack a blanket, water and other emergency supplies in case they get stuck while on the road.

Even as the sun warmed temperatures closer to 0, road closures persisted across the state due to hazardous conditions. At 2 p.m. those included I-70 eastbound at Silverthorne, U.S. 6 at Loveland Pass and State Road 14 in both directions between Rabbit Ears Pass and Walden. The Colorado Department of Transportation recommends checking before venturing out if travel is absolutely necessary.

At DIA, 554 Thursday flights into or out of the airport had been canceled as of 2 p.m., according to the Flightaware service. Another 516 flights were listed as delayed. Airlines recommend you check your flight’s status before heading to the airport.

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A traveler sleeps on the floor on the balcony above the north security complex in the main terminal at Denver International Airport on Thursday morning, Dec. 22, 2022. A severe winter storm, with snow and temperatures dipping into the minus 10 range, meant many canceled or delayed flights here and across the country.
Hart Van Denburg/CPR News
Sandy Boyndu, left, from Michigan, checked her phone Thursday morning, Dec. 22, 2022 while camped out at Denver International Airport. She’s been trying to get to a friend’s home in Vancouver, Canada, for two days but like many other travelers has found herself stranded at DIA.

Bus and train passengers in the Denver metro should expect delays and slower service Thursday due to the arctic weather that moved in overnight. The Regional Transportation District says slick roads mean slow buses, and commuter trains have to operate at slower speeds when tracks are icy. RTD says passengers should leave as early as possible to reach their destinations on time.

Meanwhile, gas and power companies say they're prepared for the arctic weather to last into the weekend. The state's largest utility, Xcel Energy, says it's storing more natural gas to heat homes this winter. It is not expecting major power outages and neither is Black Hills Energy, the main power provider in south-central Colorado. To save energy, providers recommend customers turn down thermostats and water heaters, insulate windows and doors, and open curtains during the day to let in sunshine.

Early Thursday, Xcel reported just 50 customers in the Denver metro area were experiencing outages at 6 am. Poudre Valley REA reported more than 6,000 customers without power in Windsor, Severance and west Greeley for a time. The utility's power supplier rerouted electricity around a damaged transmission line and all were restored by about 8 a.m.

Temperatures began falling Wednesday afternoon. The National Weather Service reported Thursday that the temperature at DIA fell 37 degrees in an hour Wednesday evening, from 42 to 5, representing the largest one-hour drop ever recorded at that automated measuring station.

Hart Van Denburg/CPR News
The plows are out on snowy runways and parking lots as travelers make their way on foot to the east side of Jeppesen Terminal at Denver International Airport with temperatures dipping below minus 10 degrees Thursday morning, Dec. 22, 2022.
Hart Van Denburg/CPR News
Passengers make their way down a snowy platform to an A Line train at Denver International Airport Thursday morning, Dec. 22, 2022. A severe winter storm, with snow and temperatures dipping into the minus 10 range, meant many canceled or delayed flights here and across the country.

Several local governments and school districts are closed Thursday.

While many schools are already out for winter break, extracurricular activities, daycare and athletics were still scheduled. Denver Public Schools, Douglas County School District and Cherry Creek School District were among the largest districts that cancelled all school activities Thursday due to the wind chill.

Most universities are also closing to keep faculty and staff at home. The University of Colorado Boulder, the Colorado School of Mines and the Auraria campus are among the closures.

Many local governments are closing, but some will remain open despite the inclement weather. Jefferson, Boulder and Broomfield are among the counties closing their government offices, including public health clinics. El Paso County and Denver City and County, the two largest municipalities in the state, are remaining open as of 7 a.m.

Where to get help

Due to the life-threatening low temperatures, all Denver city recreation centers as well as all Denver Public Library locations will open as emergency warming shelters during normal hours on Thursday and Friday. The city is also opening a 24-hour warming center at the Denver Coliseum through Friday

Hart Van Denburg/CPR News
Emergency cots and sanitation stations at the Denver Coliseum on Wednesday, Dec. 21, 2022. The city is preparing to open the facility as a warming center, anticipating bitterly cold overnight temperatures and winds tonight and Thursday morning.

In Colorado Springs and Pueblo, community organizations are providing shelter as the region deals with extremely cold and life threatening weather. The Red Cross opened an emergency warming shelter at Sanctuary Church on the west side of Colorado Springs on Wednesday. Springs Rescue Mission also expanded their shelter’s capacity. The Pueblo Transit Center will function as a warming center until Saturday.

The City of Boulder along with Boulder County and Boulder Office of Emergency Management is opening a 24-hour emergency warming center at the East Boulder Community Center from tonight through the morning of Saturday, December 24th. A second warming center will be opened at the Boulder Shelter for the Homeless (BSH) for Wednesday and Thursday night. The BSH will remain open all day for tomorrow and Friday December 23rd.

Shelters operated by Catholic Charities are at full capacity in Denver, Fort Collins, and Greeley as of Wednesday night. The charity’s five shelters in the Denver area currently have 660 beds filled. The Samaritan House Fort Collins facility is serving 92 people. The Guadalupe Community Center in Greeley facility has 50 beds filled. At its Marisol Home 48th there’s currently an overflow of 50 beds. Catholic Charities’ Marisol Homes provide shelter for pregnant women and single women with children. Douglas County is directing residents who are unsheltered to the Homeless Engagement, Assistance and Resource Team (HEART) and the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office after 5 p.m. for assistance.

This is a developing story and will be updated.