Extremely strong and destructive winds roared through Colorado and the Denver area on Wednesday, toppled trees and downed powerlines brought widespread powers outages and travel was hampered by wind-driven dust storms and trucks being blown over on roadways.
In the metro area, the wind speed hit 95 mph in the foothills of Jefferson County at White Ranch Park and a 91 mph blast was reported in southwest Boulder County, said Ayesha Wilkinson, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Boulder.
The weather service reported a gust of 107 mph in Lamar on Wednesday morning and at the U.S. Air Force Academy airfield near Colorado Springs 100 mph gusts were recorded just before noon.
“The foothills (generally) had the highest wind gusts,” Wilkinson said. “The plains, although not as gusty, experienced a lot of dust storms and low visibility and the mountains had a lot of blowing snow.”
Wilkinson described Wednesday’s widespread weather as a “bora wind event,” westerly winds racing down leeward mountains slopes and wreaking havoc.
“It’s not uncommon in the winter,” Wilkinson said of the all-day storm. “This one was very widespread, however, and everyone got an experience of gusty winds across the area.”
Dozens of commercial motor vehicles, mostly semi-trucks and trailers, were blown over by strong winds, said Master Trooper Gary Cutler, a Colorado State Patrol spokesman. A few truck drivers were taken to local hospitals with injuries, but there were no reported fatalities related to wind-driven crashes.
Roads and highways were shut down periodically on Wednesday including Interstate 70 eastbound from Burlington to Kansas and U.S. Highway 85 from Weld County Road 104 to Wyoming. On Wednesday morning I-70 was closed briefly in both directions from Vail to Silverthorne because of winds and blowing snow.
At about 3:40 p.m., just under 59,000 customers around the Denver area were without power because of the wind event, according to Xcel Energy. The statewide number for Xcel customers at that time was 62,512.
“Xcel Energy crews are working as quickly as possible to safely restore power to customers experiencing an outage during the severe wind event,” the utility said in a statement. “Xcel Energy has increased staffing levels and put operational plans in place to make sure key employees, including line workers, are available and able to respond to outages.”
Colorado Springs Utilities reported 20,000 customers impacted by electric outages at about 1 p.m. and Black Hills Energy reported power outages in the Pueblo, Rocky Ford and Cañon City areas because of severe winds throughout the region.
At Denver International Airport there were 584 delayed flights and 43 cancellations between 1 and 5 p.m. on Wednesday, according to Flight Aware. Departure delays averaged about 70 minutes and inbound flights, because of the wind storm here, were delayed as much as 90 minutes. On Wednesday morning at DIA, at least 106 flights were canceled and 396 delayed.
Throughout the day, DIA was limited to using two of its six runways because of the severe winds, said Stephanie Figueroa, and airport spokeswoman. The Federal Aviation Administration is expected to lift the planned delayed takeoffs at 6 p.m. Wednesday..
Public mass transportation in the metro area was also impacted by the storm. The University of Colorado A Line train that runs to DIA ran an abbreviated 30-minute schedule on Wednesday. High winds led to 15-minute delays on W Line and the A Line experienced 30-minute delays Wednesday.
Notable damage and Thursday’s forecast
In Lakewood, Boulder and other cities, traffic lights were out because of the winds, and local roads were closed by downed trees. In Arvada, the annual Olde Town Christmas tree was toppled by the wicked winds.
The high wind warning posted by the weather service expired at 5 p.m.
On Thursday, winds will be much calmer, although it may still be a bit gusty in the foothills, Wilkinson said.
“The foothills will be a little gusty, but not as sever as today (Wednesday).”
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