Gov. Polis, CDOT officials warn against travel during severe weekend snowstorm

‘Difficult to impossible’ road conditions expected beginning Saturday morning, National Weather Service says

A snow plow clears a highway in Colorado. (Getty Images)

Gov. Jared Polis said on Thursday that he has activated the Colorado National Guard ahead of a severe winter storm that is expected to drop 2 to 4 feet of snow on some areas along the northern Front Range this weekend.

About 50 members of the National Guard will be on call for search and rescue operations as the potentially historic snowstorm begins on Friday evening — but Polis and other state officials urged Coloradans to make such efforts unnecessary by staying at home unless there’s an emergency.

“You don’t want to be one of those people that might have to be searched down and rescued,” Polis said in a virtual briefing. “Much better to, if the snow starts coming down hard in your area, to stay at home and not go out.”

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The National Weather Service in Boulder is warning of “difficult to impossible travel conditions” and potential power outages in areas impacted by the storm. The agency has issued a winter storm warning along the Front Range from Colorado Springs to the Wyoming border, which will be in effect from 5 a.m. Saturday to 6 a.m. Monday.

Expected Colorado snow totals for the upcoming winter storm released by the National Weather Service on March 11, 2021. (NOAA/NWS)

Expected snowfall totals in Denver range from 13 to 25 inches, according to the latest NWS forecast, with projections in Boulder and Estes Park reaching as high as 42 inches. Precipitation from the storm may transition into sleet or rain amid milder temperatures farther south and east.

The Colorado Department of Transportation is preparing for difficult road conditions by strategically positioning snowplows and other heavy equipment to be deployed as needed. Officials said that the atypical nature of the storm — an “upslope” event that will see moisture collide with the base of the Rocky Mountains from the southeast — is allowing state resources to be diverted from higher elevations where they’re more often needed.

Shoshana M. Lew is executive director of the Colorado Department of Transportation. (codot.gov)

“This storm is a lot different than our routine high-country, mountain-pass storm that typically drops 2 or 3 feet,” said John Lorme, CDOT’s director of maintenance and operations and incident commander for this weekend’s storm. “I’m directing our resources from the high country, that I usually have up there, down here to the Front Range.”

CDOT executive director Shoshana Lew stressed that the lengthy duration of the storm will likely require “ongoing plow operations” throughout the weekend, making it important for Colorado drivers to stay off the roads unless absolutely necessary.

“If you can stay safe in your home or another location, especially during the peak of the storm, please do so,” Lew said. “It gives our crews a greater ability to do their jobs.”

Xcel Energy, Colorado’s largest electric utility, said on Wednesday that hundreds of employees and contractors will be on call to respond to power outages that may be caused by broken tree limbs or other severe weather impacts.

“We’re currently monitoring this storm and preparing our crews to handle potential outages due to heavy snowfall and ice,” Mark Newby, Xcel’s control center and trouble operations director in Colorado, said in a company press release. “We have a seasoned crew well versed in quickly and safely restoring power in the most extreme conditions and this storm is no different.”

Polis said that while the storm is not expected to be as severe on the eastern plains, the Colorado Department of Agriculture is also “standing by” to assist farmers and ranchers if necessary.

Unlike last month’s severe cold snap, the upcoming storm is not expected to impact the supply of COVID-19 vaccines being shipped to Colorado or its neighbors. But thousands of vaccination appointments scheduled for this weekend in the Denver area are being postponed.

“Check with whoever your appointment is with,” Polis advised. “If they have canceled, don’t panic — your vaccine is still there. It’ll be rescheduled very quickly.”

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