DENVER – A storm bringing the first heavy snows of autumn to a large portion of the Rockies and western plains crippled parts of Colorado and Wyoming Wednesday, forcing road closures and sending students home from school as more than 2 feet piled up with much more expected.
The slow-moving system socked Denver commuters with treacherous driving conditions — a strong punch for residents who were sporting short sleeves just a couple of weeks ago. Visibility fell below a quarter-mile in many areas, and forecasters warned the storm would linger.
Western Nebraskans were already taking action as snow fell. Chadron State College closed its main campus and satellite locations through Thursday, and other schools in the area also shut down. Forecasters said 8 inches of snow had fallen in Whiteclay, near the northern border with South Dakota.
The storm was expected to be the biggest snowmaker to hit Colorado's Front Range in October since 1997, said Byron Louis, a National Weather Service meteorologist in Boulder, Colo.
Up to 18 inches of snow was forecast in Denver and as much as 4 feet was possible in the Colorado mountains. Cheyenne was expected to get at least 14 inches before the storm moves off.
The National Weather Service predicted similar amounts for a wide area of Nebraska and Colorado plains. The storm also brought snow to northern Utah's Wasatch Front.
The storm was even more unusual in parts of western Colorado. In Grand Junction, where about 2 inches fell, it was the heaviest snowfall this early in the season since 1995, said National Weather Service hydrologist Bryon Lawrence. Cold Creek in the southwest had recorded 28 inches by midafternoon.
Some schools in Colorado and Wyoming closed pre-emptively, including those in a Cheyenne district. And Colorado State University in Fort Collins sent students and staff home around midafternoon. A Colorado Springs homeless shelter decided to allow people who have been kicked out for breaking rules to return because of the weather.
Wyoming state government shut down its offices in the Cheyenne area due to weather early in the afternoon.