October snowstorm delays hundreds of flights, shuts down highways in central US

Brian Lada

Some trees have yet to shed their leaves, but the first blizzard of the season has already whipped the central U.S. with disruptive snow and temperatures more commonly seen in the heart of winter.

After unloading snow over parts of the Cascades and northern Rockies, the storm pushed eastward, spreading from Colorado through the Dakotas and into the Canadian Prairies on Thursday.

On Friday, official blizzard status was achieved in Langdon, Cavalier and Devils Lake, North Dakota. A blizzard means that there are sustained winds of at least 35 mph and blowing snow reducing visibility to less than one-quarter mile for at least three hours.

While the worst of the storm has ended, lingering bands of snow will continue to rotate through North Dakota and northern Minnesota this weekend. Winds will remain gusty, causing any snow that is not packed down on the ground to blow around, reducing visibility.

On Friday, the North Dakota Highway Patrol repeatedly urged drivers to stay off the road. In a release issued at 10:35 a.m. local time, the North Dakota Highway Patrol and North Dakota Department of Transportation announced the closing of Interstate 94 westbound starting at West Fargo.

"Closing the Interstate at this location and time is due to the available resources for stranded motorists," the statement said. "Motorists who are not able to continue west thorough Barnes, Stutsman, and Kidder counties may not be able to access hotel rooms, parking, or restaurants if this becomes an extended closure. Travelers are urged to continue to monitor road conditions on the North Dakota Travel Information Map."

This storm is responsible for the first snow of the season for many cities across the central U.S., including Denver. There were even a few reports of thundersnow in some of the heavier bursts of snow on Wednesday night and Thursday.

Accumulations generally ranged from 1-4 inches across Denver with higher amounts falling over the mountains. While this is a far cry from a significant storm in Denver, it still caused many issues for drivers in and around the city.

The Denver Police Department reported around 100 crashes amid the wintry weather outbreak. Some roads were also closed, including a stretch of Interstate 25 northbound between Colorado Springs and Denver.

The wintry weather has also caused headaches for folks taking to the sky with poor weather forcing a ground stop at Denver International Airport. More than 100 flights were canceled and another 800 delayed at the airport on Thursday.

Heavier snow fell to the north of the city with 5 to 10 inches piling up from western Nebraska through western South Dakota. Dozens of schools across this area canceled classes on Thursday due to the snowstorm, according to The Associated Press.

Blowing and drifting snow was causing hazardous driving conditions across much of central and eastern North Dakota on Friday morning.

In North Dakota, a jackknifed semi blocked both lanes of traffic on I-94 Friday morning. (Twitter/@NDHighwayPatrol)

Before the first flakes fell, a vigorous cold front blasted across the central U.S., slashing temperatures significantly. The cold front seemed to usher in a new season, with temperatures on Wednesday resembling those of late-summer, while on Thursday, they seemed to reflect a mid-winter afternoon.

Temperatures across the central Plains topped out in the 70s and 80s F in many areas, with a few spots even hitting the 90-degree mark. By Thursday afternoon, temperatures had plummeted into the 20s and 30s with AccuWeather RealFeel Temperatures® in the teens and single digits.

Denver experienced its largest two-day temperature swing ever recorded in October. The mercury plummeted from 83 F at 3 p.m. MDT Wednesday afternoon to 19 F at 9 a.m. MDT Thursday morning, a difference of 64 degrees.

The brunt of the cold focused on areas farther north with Great Falls, Montana, recording its earliest zero-degree temperature reading on record.

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