Whether you call it a “snow hurricane” or “bombogenesis,” this storm packs a punch worthy of its namesake.
DENVER – A powerful “bomb cyclone” unleashed a ferocious mix of snow, rain and wind across the central United States on Wednesday and was being blamed for a crash that killed a Colorado State Patrol trooper.
More than 1,300 flights have been canceled at Denver International Airport, where a wind gust of 80 mph was reported Wednesday morning. All runways at the airport were closed around early afternoon and remained closed into the evening.
About 2,900 flights were canceled across the nation, according to flightaware.com.
As of 5 p.m. MDT, about 128,000 Denver-area residents were without power, down from 246,000 four hours earlier. Interstates were shut down, most schools were closed and many businesses declared a snow day. Colorado Gov. Jared Polis declared a state of emergency Wednesday evening, activating the state national guard for search and rescue missions.
Earlier in the day, Cpl. Daniel Groves was killed on Interstate 76 after a driver lost control of his vehicle in the storm and hit him. Groves had been helping another driver who slid off the highway, the state patrol said.
In addition to road closures in Colorado and Wyoming, the Nebraska State Patrol closed Interstate 80 from the Wyoming border east to North Platte, as well as all state highways in the Nebraska Panhandle
“This is a very epic cyclone,” said Greg Carbin, chief of forecast operations for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Weather Prediction Center. “We’re looking at something that will go down in the history books.”
It could develop into the worst storm of its type in 35 or 40 years, he said.
A blizzard warning remained in effect for Denver on Wednesday afternoon, where 4 to 8 inches of snow was forecast, along with howling winds.
After a rainy early morning in Denver, conditions deteriorated rapidly, and by 11 a.m., most roads were snow-covered and flakes were whipping in the wind.
By noon, the fierce storm was rattling signs and rocking cars. Roads become treacherous, and two-wheel-drive sedans struggled to climb up anything resembling a hill, their tires spinning fruitlessly.
“They predicted a blizzard, and that’s what we’re having,” said server Rindi Gray, 48, as she took a break from shoveling the sidewalk outside My Brother’s Bar, which boasts some of Denver’s best cheeseburgers but expected to close early because of the storm.
Across the city, workers struggled in vain to keep sidewalks and walkways clear. Wrapped in a plastic poncho flapping loudly in the wind, Matt Krueger, 36, pushed snow off a sidewalk while more blew in right behind him.
“They told us to clear a path, but it’s just gonna get snowed over again,” he sighed.
Authorities asked drivers to stay off the roads.
Farther south, nearly 75,000 customers were without power in Texas.
“While not a tropical system, winds will rival what’s seen in a Category 1 hurricane,” weathermodels.com meteorologist Ryan Maue said.
Bomb cyclones – sometimes called winter hurricanes – are storms that strengthen unusually fast.
The worst weather hit the Plains, from Texas up to the Dakotas.
“We expect a major blizzard to unfold with winds likely to approach hurricane force, heavy snow and massive drifts,” according to AccuWeather meteorologist Alex Sosnowski.
One to 2 feet of snow and howling winds were forecast to lash portions of Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, the Dakotas and Nebraska, where blizzard warnings are in effect. The National Weather Service warned of “impossible travel conditions.”
Nebraska State Patrol put a tow tag on the wintry work of art, just for fun.
“You risk becoming stranded if you attempt to travel through these conditions,” it said.
In Nebraska, Gov. Pete Ricketts issued an emergency declaration as the storm approached.
Wild, destructive winds gusting as high as 100 mph hit Texas, New Mexico, Kansas and Colorado. Blowing dust will reduce visibility to less than a mile at times. The Weather Service office in Midland/Odessa, Texas, said Wednesday could be “the windiest day in years.”
“High winds may end up stretching over 1 million square miles of the central states with this storm,” AccuWeather’s Sosnowski said.
In the Upper Midwest and around the Great Lakes, as much as 3 inches of drenching rain on top of mounds of already-fallen snow and sodden soil could lead to flooding.
“The greatest risk of flooding will tend to be in urban and poor drainage areas where piles of snow are blocking storm drains,” according to AccuWeather meteorologist Kristina Pydynowski.
Many rivers in the Upper Midwest were likely to reach flood stage over the next several days, the Weather Service said.
After two tornadoes were reported in New Mexico and Texas on Tuesday, more severe weather was forecast for Wednesday in the South. Portions of Arkansas, Alabama and Tennessee are at greatest risk for tornadoes and large hail, the Storm Prediction Center said.
The Weather Channel named the winter storm Ulmer. No other private weather firm, nor the National Weather Service, uses that name.
While the central USA endures the storm, both coasts will see mostly tranquil weather this week.
Contributing: The Associated Press. Rice reported from McLean, Virginia. Kristin Lam, USA TODAY. Lam reported from Los Angeles.
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