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Archive for Sunday, December 31, 2006

Winter storm moves into Plains

December 31, 2006

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— A winter storm stretching nearly from Canada to Mexico rolled out of the Rockies on Saturday, sparing Denver another round of heavy snow but trapping drivers farther east in 10-foot drifts.

Denver had expected a foot or more of additional snow through today, but the storm trudged northeast from New Mexico into the Texas and Oklahoma panhandles. Parts of eastern Colorado still expected up to 2 feet, along with high winds.

"It's still a very powerful storm," said meteorologist Jim Kalina of the National Weather Service. Winds exceeding 50 mph produced whiteout conditions.

National Guard troops in tracked vehicles crawled through the blizzard to rescue hundreds of motorists who became stranded in the region's second blizzard during the busy holiday travel season.

"They're telling me it's zero visibility," said Maj. Gen. Mason Whitney, the state adjutant general. "They'll kind of bump into something and it'll turn out to be a car with people in it."

The Guard and Civil Air Patrol planned to do searches by helicopter early today, weather permitting.

The storm, which hampered air travel through Denver on Thursday and Friday, spread snow from New Mexico to the Dakotas and generated strong thunderstorms in the lower Mississippi Valley.

Conditions were so bad that some snowplows had to stay off the roads.

In Denver, the sun emerged Saturday for the first time in several days, helping street crews clearing snow and ice left from the pre-Christmas blizzard. Major carriers at Denver International Airport resumed flying regular schedules after canceling 20 percent of flights during the storm.

The weather service on Saturday reported 30 inches in the foothills west of Denver, with more than 9 inches in the city.

Parts of Interstate 70 from the Rockies to Kansas remained closed Saturday, along with several other major east-west highways. In New Mexico, Interstate 25 from Pueblo to Santa Fe was also closed.

A Kansas Highway Patrol dispatcher said most major roads from Kansas into Colorado would remain closed until Colorado officials reopen their routes.

Ice and strong winds knocked out power to at least 14,000 people in Kansas, where up to 18 inches of snow had fallen by Saturday in some areas. The snow later turned to rain in many areas.

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