Winter storm shuts down stretches of Colorado highways


DENVER (AP) — A powerful wintery storm dumped heavy snow on parts of Colorado on Tuesday while bringing the threat of tornadoes to millions in Arkansas and Texas, where a handful of damaging twisters had plowed through that state’s Panhandle the day before.

A man walks past nearly buried shopping carts at the Kings Soopers in Monument, Colo., on Tuesday, Nov. 17, 2015. A powerful wintery storm blasted parts of Colorado.  (Jerilee Bennett/The Gazette via AP)
A man walks past nearly buried shopping carts at the Kings Soopers in Monument, Colo., on Tuesday, Nov. 17, 2015. A powerful wintery storm blasted parts of Colorado. (Jerilee Bennett/The Gazette via AP)

Much of Interstate 70, Colorado’s main east-west highway, was closed because of blizzard conditions on the state’s Eastern Plains as well as in northwest Kansas, where up to 15 inches of snow and heavy winds are in the forecast. Dozens of semi-trailers and cars were lined up along the interstate and a nearby frontage road on Tuesday as strong winds blew snow across the road.

“I’ve got to go to Liberal, Kansas, and this is the best way to go. So I came this way not realizing that they were shutting the roads down, that it was that bad,” said truck driver Thomas Meyer, who was traveling with his dog, Little Hank.

Truck driver Fernando Rendell said he was headed to Kansas City, Missouri, but stopped after seeing two trucks in the ditch along the slick interstate.

As the system pushed east, the National Weather Service issued a tornado watch through 4 p.m. Tuesday for parts of Texas, including Houston, and through 6 p.m. for a large part of Arkansas, where heavy rain had led to standing water in Little Rock and winds caused property damage in the southwest part of the state.

On Monday, a least five tornadoes touched down in the Texas Panhandle, including one that hit a Halliburton district office near Pampa. The company says it was recently closed and no chemicals or workers were there at the time. Two deputies from the Gray County Sheriff’s Office were exposed to natural gas while checking the storm-damaged property, which was later deemed safe, the sheriff’s office said in a statement.

The Federal Aviation Administration had slowed air traffic at Denver International Airport, but some of the more than 100 flights that were cancelled because of the weather were reinstated by Tuesday morning as the system moved on.

The storm brought between 6 and 12 inches of snow to the handful of ski resorts that have opened for the season before moving east.

The storm that originated in the Gulf of Alaska could be a harbinger of El Nino, the ocean-warming phenomenon that’s predicted to bring heavy rain to the West in the coming months, said Kathy Hoxsie of the National Weather Service.

“It’s the beginning of the winter season,” she said. “We want storms. We want rain. We’ve been projecting that we’re going to have a wet winter and this is a sign that it’s going to happen.”

California in particular is anxiously awaiting winter rains as it seeks relief from its record, four-year drought. Heavy rain will help, but isn’t expected to erase the deficit. Forecasters canceled high wind warnings in Southern California on Tuesday morning, but not before downed trees blocked roads overnight and thousands of customers in Los Angeles County lost power.

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Associated Press writers P. Solomon Banda in Aurora, Colorado, and Diana Heidgerd in Dallas contributed to this report.

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