A couple snowmobiles through a parking lot in downtown Denver on March 14, 2021. (Jesse Paul, The Colorado Sun)

Denver International Airport shut down its runways on Sunday and Interstate 70 through the Colorado mountains was closed as a major storm dropping wet, heavy snow pounded the Rocky Mountain region.

The effects of the storm are spilling into the work week, with the Colorado legislature announcing it won’t meet on Monday because of the storm. Schools and courts in many areas will be closed, too.

The National Weather Service has issued a winter storm warning, saying it expects 18 to 24 inches of heavy, wet snow to fall in Denver and Boulder from through Sunday night. Some areas along the Front Range foothills were expected to receive up to 30 inches.

The warning is in effect until Monday at 6 a.m.

“If you must travel, keep an extra flashlight, food and water in your vehicle in case of emergency,” the weather service said in a bulletin.

Snowplow operations near the Fall River Entrance in Rocky Mountain National Park on March 14, 2021. (Provided by Rocky Mountain National Park)

A blizzard warning is also in effect until midnight Sunday for the northern Interstate 25 corridor, including the cities of Fort Collins, Boulder, Denver, Greeley and Castle Rock.

“Blowing and drifting snow will significantly reduce visibility with whiteout conditions at times,” the weather service said. “Scattered power outages can be expected.”

The Colorado Department of Transportation warned that road closures are highly likely and asked people not to make unnecessary trips. The highways most likely to be affected included I-25 from Colorado Springs to Wyoming, including Denver and Monument Hill; Interstate 70 to Limon; and Interstate 76 to Fort Morgan, the department said.

A flipped truck on Interstate 70. (Colorado State Patrol Golden)

“Please stay home and off the roads if you can,” the Boulder Police Department tweeted Sunday morning.”The roads are snow packed, slick and vehicles are getting stuck.”

I-70 was closed between Golden and Vail because of the storm.

The highest snowfall amount recorded in the Denver area was 36 inches in Nederland. Here are other measurements:

  • 21 inches in Federal Heights
  • 23 inches in southeast Aurora
  • 18 inches in Broomfield
  • 24 inches in Georgetown
  • 19 inches at Denver International Airport
  • 16 inches in the heart of Denver
  • 18 inches in Roxborough Park
  • 15 inches in Ponderose Park
  • 33 inches in Aspen Park
  • 29 inches on Buckhorn Mountain
  • 20 inches in Bailey
  • 18 inches in Firestone

Meteorologist Chris Bianchi said on Twitter that it’s likely the weekend storm will become the only the fourth in Denver’s 141-year recorded weather history with more than 2 feet of snowfall.

People were skiing, sledding and even snowmobiling through the heart of the Mile High City on Sunday.

Joe Sorrentino and Meredith Kaiser snowmobile through a parking lot in downtown Denver on March 14, 2021. (Jesse Paul, The Colorado Sun)

Joe Sorrentino said he rode a snowmobile from northwest Denver to the Governor’s Park area. He said he followed all traffic laws and that there was plenty of snow on the roads — about a foot — for his sled to make it the several-mile trip across town. 

“Came over here to grab a drink,” said Sorrentino, who was with Meredith Kaiser. Kaiser was riding on her own sled.

Check out the National Weather Service map below for local snowfall amounts:

An avalanche warning is in effect through 6 a.m. on Monday for the Front Range mountain zone. There is “considerable” danger in backcountry areas across most of the rest of the state, according to the Colorado Avalanche Information Center.

The Colorado National Guard has been activated by Gov. Jared Polis to assist authorities with storm response.

Polis ordered state government offices to open late, at 10 a.m., on Monday because of the storm. The Colorado House and Senate said they would not meet on Monday.

Denver Public Schools, the state’s largest school district, canceled in-person and virtual classes for Monday.

Xcel Energy, meanwhile, was reporting power outages across the Denver area and northern Front Range.

Storm damage in Fort Collins on March 14, 2021. Trees took down power lines in northern Colorado. (Nathan Hahn, Special to The Colorado Sun)

The airport shut down its runways on Sunday afternoon because of blowing snow and poor visibility.

“Many flights have already been cancelled so the runway closures have minimal impacts,” the airport said in a tweet. “While the runways are closed and flights aren’t currently arriving or departing, the airport itself is open. Our terminal and concourses will remain open for passengers and employees.”

Denver International had a busy morning Saturday with passengers trying to beat the storm, but later in the day about 750 flights were canceled, airport spokeswoman Emily Williams said. Just about all Sunday flights had been canceled as well — nearly 1,300.

More than 11 inches of snow had fallen at the airport as of 6 a.m. on Sunday.

“Moderate snow is falling at the airport this morning with snow fall rates of one-inch to one and one-half-inch predicted throughout the afternoon and evening,” the airport said in a news release. “Total storm snow accumulation could be between 15.5-27 inches at the airport.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

The Colorado Sun — jesse@coloradosun.com

Desk: 720-432-2229

Jesse Paul is a Denver-based political reporter and editor at The Colorado Sun, covering the state legislature, Congress and local politics. He is the author of The Unaffiliated newsletter and also occasionally fills in on breaking news coverage.

A Colorado College graduate, Jesse worked at The Denver Post from June 2014 until July 2018, when he joined The Sun. He was also an intern at The Gazette in Colorado Springs and The News Journal in Wilmington, Delaware, his hometown.

Jesse has won awards for long form feature writing, public service reporting, sustained coverage and deadline news reporting.

Email: jesse@coloradosun.com Twitter: @jesseapaul