Winter Storm Wesley Impacts: Schools Closed, Flights Canceled, Interstates Shut Down
April 10, 2019
Powerful Winter Storm Wesley is expected to bring blizzard conditions to the Northern Plains and up to 2-feet of snow.
- Colorado has activated its state emergency operations center.
- The governor of Minnesota said the National Guard was standing by to help stranded motorists.
- Portions of interstates have been closed in Minnesota, South Dakota and Colorado.
Winter Storm Wesley's effects are starting to be felt across the Upper Midwest and the Plains, as six states are under a blizzard warning from the latest “bomb cyclone.”
Schools are closed, flights canceled and road conditions are rapidly deteriorating, with several areas reporting white-out conditions.
Officials in Colorado, Wyoming and other areas were encouraging businesses to close down early so their employees could get home before the weather worsens.
"The current storm is bringing rain, snow, wind, and blizzard conditions," Colorado Gov. Jared Polis tweeted. "Road conditions are getting worse and we encourage folks to avoid travel."
Interstate 70 was closed in both directions between Vail and Copper Mountain due to accidents.
The Colorado Rockies baseball team postponed an afternoon game today against the Atlanta Braves as conditions continued to worsen in Denver. An evening Major League Soccer game between the Colorado Rapids and the Seattle Sounders was also postponed. About 50 percent of Denver International Airport's daily flights have been scratched so far, most of them in the afternoon when rain was expected to turn into snow, the Associated Press reported.
The state has activated its emergency operations center to deal with any impacts from the storm.
The Colorado State Emergency Operations Center is activated for the winter storm. @GovofCO authorized @CONG1860 to assist in predicted search and rescue efforts. Don't be a victim, stay off the roads during blizzard conditions. Please be safe! pic.twitter.com/A40ejhx8ZR— Kevin Klein (@DHSEM) April 10, 2019
Freezing rain turning to snow is falling in parts of South Dakota, where Gov. Kristi Noem has closed state government offices in 52 counties, and at least two counties have issued warnings to drivers to stay off the roads. A portion of Interstate 29 from Brookings to the North Dakota border was closed and the state Department of Transportation expected Interstate 29 from Sioux Falls to Brookings to also close, depending how quickly weather and road conditions deteriorate. Schools were closed in Rapid City and others parts of the state both today and tomorrow.
In Minnesota, Gov. Tim Walz said "the National Guard stands ready" to rescue any stranded motorists. The state Department of Transportation closed a portion of I-35 from Medford to Faribault, where crashes caused by heavy snow brought traffic at a standstill.
The National Weather Service in Minneapolis said up to 23 inches of snow were expected, with a potential layer of ice on top, and winds could gust as high as 50 mph.
"Falling and blowing snow with strong winds and poor visibilities are likely. "This will lead to whiteout
conditions, making travel extremely dangerous. Do not travel," the weather service warned."
Wesley is also impacting efforts to prepare for more normal springtime weather - several states in the storm's path cancelled tornado drills that were planned for tomorrow as part of National Severe Weather Week.
Blizzard warnings extended over 700 miles in six states, with more than 14.8 million people under winter alerts.
"This is a dangerous storm! Heavy snow and high winds will result in blizzard conditions. Really think about whether you need to travel," the South Dakota public safety tweeted Wednesday.
The state's highway patrol warned drivers Wednesday afternoon about several hazardous roadways.
Motorists should travel with a winter survival kit in the event their vehicle breaks down and are then forced to wait for help. Carrying extra blankets, food, water, flashlight, first aid kit, and cell phone charger are highly recommended.
As the system was moving eastward across the northern and central Rockies and the northern Plains, thundersnow was reported early Wednesday in parts of South Dakota, including in Pierre, the state's capital city.
Cities across the region were preparing after blizzard warnings were issued by the National Weather Service from parts of northeastern Colorado to southeastern Wyoming, northwest Kansas, western and central Nebraska, much of South Dakota and southwestern Minnesota.
Hazardous conditions in the Rapid City area. Please do not travel unless it is an emergency! Cars that slide off the road may not be removed until conditions improve! pic.twitter.com/S0FMrYeHkf— SD Highway Patrol (@SDHighwayPatrol) April 10, 2019
Airlines, including Delta, United and Frontier, offered travel waivers for customers in the path of the storm. Travelers flying on Wednesday and Thursday can change flights at no charge on some routes.
In Colorado, 1,800 trained snow-removal personnel and 950 maintenance trucks were standing by.
Concerns were also mounting that flooding could cause problems in numerous cities.
The Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota, one of the poorest areas in the country, is bracing for the winter storm that could bring more flooding, the Associated Press reports.
In March, another bomb cyclone dumped heavy snow on Pine Ridge, which lead to severe flooding. Hundreds of people were trapped in their homes. The flooding also damaged or destroyed hundreds of miles of roads and dozens of buildings, disrupted water supplies to thousands and prompted the governor to send in the National Guard, the Associated Press reported.
This next storm is renewing fears of more flooding in an areas still trying to recover.
"Damage is going to be in the hundreds of millions," tribal spokesman Chase Iron Eyes said. "Things are beginning to dry out, but now there's a huge blizzard predicted. On this reservation, it's kind of a constant crisis the way we live here, and these disasters just put us in a perilous position."
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