Colorado, Nebraska smacked by blizzard as spring began

Brian Lada

Spring officially began on Thursday, in the earliest start to the season in 124 years for the United States, but for Americans living in parts of the Central states, it felt more like the first day of winter as a blizzard swept across the region.

Wind-whipped snow caused major disruptions from the Colorado Rockies through Nebraska with as much as 23 inches of snow accumulating near Nederland, Colorado.

A shopper loads groceries into her sports-utility vehicle as a spring storm envelopes Colorado while residents struggle with the spread of coronavirus Thursday, March 19, 2020, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

The worst of the snow hit Denver between 12 p.m. and 7 p.m. MDT when heavy, blowing snow caused travel to shut down across the city. By the time the storm ended, many areas across Denver had picked up between 5 and 10 inches of snow.

Over 1,100 flights were canceled at Denver International Airport, according to FlightStats, as blowing snow caused visibility to drop to almost zero. Meanwhile, roads were shut down, including a section of Interstate 25.

Northeastern Colorado and western Nebraska took the brunt of the storm with widespread blizzard conditions forcing many roads to close by Thursday afternoon, including part of Interstate 80 from North Platte, Nebraska, to the Wyoming border.

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The snowstorm officially became a blizzard late Thursday when Ainsworth, Nebraska, reached specific criteria.

"A blizzard is defined as a storm that brings sustained winds or wind gusts of 35 mph or greater and visibility less than one-quarter of a mile for three consecutive hours," AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Alex Sosnowski said.

A plow truck attempting to clear a highway in Nebraska covered with snow on Thursday afternoon. (Photo/Nebraska DOT)

The snow has stopped falling, but impacts from the storm will continue into the weekend, particularly for those headed into the mountains.

There is a ‘considerable' avalanche danger across most of the Colorado Rockies in the wake of the blizzard, including the Front Range just outside of Denver, according to Avalance.org. People planning to ski or spend time in the mountains are urged to use extra caution over the next few days.

Another storm, although not as strong as Thursday's, is forecast to blanket the region with a coating of snow over the weekend, which could further add to the avalanche danger.

Snow on the first day of spring may seem out of place for some parts of the U.S., but it is not uncommon for Colorado. March is typically the snowiest month of the year in Denver with the city averaging 10.7 inches, according to the National Weather Service (NWS).

With 7 inches of snow so far this month, Denver is on pace to finish around normal in terms of snowfall for March.

AccuWeather long-range meteorologists first predicted a stormy and snowy start to the season for the region in AccuWeather's spring forecast that was issued in the beginning of February.

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