DENVER – A powerful spring storm that dumped more than 3 feet of snow in some parts of the Rockies closed a major national trucking route for more than 24 hours, snapped power lines and drew skiers to the slopes of Colorado's only remaining open ski area. Just to the south, some Arizona communities are rationing water because of drought, and to the west, drought-parched California is bracing for another week of hot weather that could fuel more wildfires. Welcome to springtime in the West, where May snowstorms are coinciding with the start to the region's wildfire season – and doing little to alleviate the overall regional drought.
SNOW: Spring is normally the wettest time of year in the Rockies. While snowfall is common in the mountains in May, significant snowfall at lower elevations like Denver in May only occurs every five or 10 years, Colorado state climatologist Nolan Doesken said. Denver got between 4 and 7 inches of typical heavy, wet spring snow. While much of it didn't stick to the warm ground, it weighed down trees just sprouting spring leaves and led gardeners to cover flowers and plants with plastic sheets and buckets. A freeze is expected to follow before warmer weather returns Tuesday.
TRAVEL: The storm shut down Interstate 80 through southern Wyoming and into Nebraska for more than 24 hours. Some drivers abandoned their vehicles while stranded truckers filled up rest area parking lots along the highway, which averages more than 6,000 trucks per day. Snowy conditions appear to have contributed to at least one fatal crash southwest of Denver. The snow caused minimal problems at Denver International Airport, canceling about 60 of its 1,600 daily flights and delaying both arrivals and departures in the morning. The airport also briefly lost power, stalling some escalators and elevators. Airport spokeswoman Julie Smith said a backup generator spared the airport any major problems.
DROUGHT: Much of the West remains in some stage of drought, with the worst conditions in Southern California and the Southern Plains and Texas Panhandle. Gusty Santa Ana winds are raising the fire danger in California, where temperatures are expected to top 100 degrees in drought-stricken inland areas this week. A wildfire on Sunday on the Panhandle's dry, dusty plains destroyed 75 homes in a mobile home community. Conditions vary greatly within states. While Colorado's overall amount of snow in the mountains – the state's main water supply – is close to average this year, the snowpack in its southwestern corner is way below normal and severe drought continues to afflict farms and ranches in the southeast. Fire officials are predicting a normal wildfire season for Colorado, which would be an improvement over recent years in which blazes have destroyed hundreds of houses.
SKIING: After lots of snow in March and April, many Colorado ski resorts added extra days of skiing but only one resort is still open. After getting 17 inches of new snow in the last three days, Arapahoe Basin says conditions are better than they were in February. Spokeswoman Leigh Hierholzer said about 2,000 people were on the slopes, apparently undeterred by slippery roads or the start of the work week.