Historic Great Plains blizzard turns deadly in Colorado

Blizzard in Broomfield, Colorado on March 13, 2019. (Photo: Broomfield, Colorado Police Department)

A huge blizzard continues its destructive path today (March 14) across the nation’s heartland, after a brutal hit in Colorado, Wyoming and Nebraska on Wednesday. Heavy snowfall, record-breaking winds and whiteout conditions became dangerous and deadly. The storm was even hard to handle hundreds of miles away where skies were sunny and the air was warm.

The Damage Done

The blizzard made it nearly impossible to drive safely, but, unfortunately, this didn’t stop people from trying. In one instance, it took the life of a man in uniform. According to the Colorado State Patrol, one of its own, Corporal Daniel Groves, was outside his vehicle late Wednesday morning helping a driver who slid off I-76 during the storm. Another driver lost control of his car and hit Groves, who was taken to a hospital where he later died. The case is under investigation to determine if the driver who hit Groves was going too fast. Groves had been with the Colorado State Patrol since July 2007.

Besides numerous wrecks and dangerous driving conditions, the storm has knocked out electricity to more than 140,000 customers across Colorado and Texas as of 2:00 p.m. EDT today, down from around 200,000 customers 24 hours ago . Yes, strong winds from the storm stretched as far as the Lone Star State yesterday, where the weather was otherwise benign with highs in the 60s and 70s. Truck drivers were no match for the 80-mph gusts that blew through Amarillo, with several blow overs reported across the area.

Winds tore the roof off an Amazon fulfillment center in Irving, Texas yesterday morning. High winds were also strong enough to blow more than 20 Union Pacific train cars off their tracks in Tucumcari, New Mexico.

Making History

This blizzard had certainly not been run-of-the-mill by any means. The National Weather Service reported the following record wind gusts yesterday:

• San Augustin Pass, New Mexico: 104 mph
• Colorado Springs Municipal Airport: 96 mph
• Denver International Airport: 80 mph

Records for lowest barometric pressure may have been set at the following sites, too, but still have to be confirmed:

• Pueblo, Colorado: 970.0 millibars
• Clayton, New Mexico: 973.4 millibars
• Dodge City, Kansas: 976.1 millibars

For comparison, the lowest recorded pressure during the blizzard of March 1993 that slammed the southeastern and northeastern U.S. was 960 millibars.

The storm’s central pressure dropped 33 millibars in a 24-hour period, from 9:00 a.m. MDT Tuesday to 9:00 a.m. MDT Wednesday. This is called “bombogenesis”, when a storm’s central pressure drops more than 24 millibars in 24 hours.

More to Come

The blizzard shut down Denver International Airport early yesterday afternoon. Canceled flights stranded thousands of travelers. According to social media announcements, departures resumed around 9:00 a.m. MDT today, but delays or cancellations today and tonight are a good bet at airports from Fargo to Omaha. Also, sections of I-25, I-70 and I-80 are still closed in northeast Colorado, eastern Wyoming and western Nebraska as of noon EDT today.

Unfortunately, the blizzard isn’t over yet. Heavy snowfall will continue through this evening across eastern portions of Nebraska and the Dakotas, as well as northern Iowa to northern Minnesota. The snow, along with whiteout conditions, may lead to more closures along the I-29, I-80, I-90 and I-94 corridors in these states. The storm will gradually fade tonight into early Friday, but Blizzard Warnings remain posted for many areas at least through this evening.

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Nick Austin, Director of Weather Analytics and Senior Meteorologist

In his 17 years of weather forecasting experience, Nick worked on air at WBBJ-TV and WRCB-TV, including time spent doing weather analysis and field reporting. He received his Bachelor of Science in Meteorology from Florida State University as well as a Bachelor of Science in Management from Georgia Institute of Technology. Nick is also a member of the American Meteorological Society and National Weather Association. As a member of the weather team at WBBJ-TV in Jackson, Tennessee, Nick was nominated for a Mid-South Emmy for live coverage of a major tornado outbreak in 2008. As part of the weather team at WRCB-TV in Chattanooga, Tennessee, Nick shared the Chattanooga Times-Free Press Best of the Best award for “Best Weather Team” for eight consecutive years. Nick earned his National Weather Association Broadcasting Seal in 2005.

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