DENVER (AP) — A powerful wintery storm dumped heavy snow on parts of Colorado on Tuesday while bringing the threat of tornadoes to millions in Texas, where a handful of damaging twisters had plowed through that state’s Panhandle the day before.
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.
While Denver only got a light dusting, the snow was heavier to the east and south of the city. Interstate 25 south of Denver was closed during the morning rush hour after dozens of vehicles were stranded there, but it later reopened.
In Texas, at least five tornadoes touched down in the Panhandle on Monday, 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, though two deputies from the Gray County Sheriff’s Office came across unknown chemicals and were checked by medical personnel at the scene. The complex was later deemed safe, the sheriff’s office said in a statement.
The National Weather Service issued a tornado watch until late Tuesday afternoon for parts of Texas, including Houston. Forecasters say a small tornado touched down before dawn Tuesday in North Texas, in the Keller area. Several homes were damaged but nobody was hurt.
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 on Tuesday warned of wind gusts reaching 70 mph in Southern California. Downed trees blocked roads overnight and at least 10,000 customers remain without electricity across Los Angeles County.