Hundreds of flights canceled at Denver as another snowstorm sweeps over Rockies, into Plains

Published 8:14 pm Friday, December 29, 2006

The second major snow storm in a week pounded Colorado on Friday, burying the foothills under another 2 feet of snow, shutting down highways and forcing the cancellation of hundreds of flights at the Denver airport.

The storm stretched across the Rocky Mountains into the western Plains, where the National Weather Service warned that the gusting wind could whip up blinding whiteouts.

Colorado Gov. Bill Owens again declared a statewide disaster, putting the National Guard on standby as areas west of Denver got 28 inches of snow Thursday and early Friday. In the city, more than a foot of snow had fallen by morning and another foot was expected.

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United Airlines and Frontier Airlines, the largest carriers at Denver International Airport, both canceled 322 flights through Friday morning but were hopeful that they could soon get back on schedule.

“Right now, we’re planning to operate a full schedule starting at noon,” United spokeswoman Robin Urbanski said early Friday.

While last week’s blizzard dumped nearly 2 feet of snow in about 24 hours, making it impossible for airport and highway plows to keep up, snow from the new storm was expected to stretch over about three days.

The metro area’s light rail trains, buses and public transit all planned to run on their regular schedules Friday. Maintenance crews covered Denver streets with deicer, but offices still closed early and residents stocked up on groceries.

Interstate 25, the main north-south highway through the state, was closed about 60 miles north of Denver, and Greyhound canceled all trips out of Denver on Friday and more cancelations could follow.

With memories fresh of the 4,700 stranded holiday travelers and backed up flights around the country last week, New Year’s travelers jammed the airport Thursday trying to get out of Colorado while they still could.

Managers at the nation’s fifth-busiest airport drew up snowplowing plans, and airlines urged ticket-holders to get early flights or wait until after the storm.

Chris Malmay of San Diego hoped to spend a long holiday with family in Colorado, but because of the first storm, he couldn’t reach Denver until Christmas Eve. On Thursday, his flight back to California was canceled because of the second storm.

“It’s been crazy,” Malmay said as he waited to board a plane Friday. “I’m saying, ‘Please let me go back where it’s sunny. You won’t get snowed in, I promise.’”

The airport and airlines called in extra workers, and security lines moved relatively quickly. But long lines formed at ticket counters as travelers tried to adjust their plans.

The Frontier line snaked across the cavernous terminal, weaving behind the lines of ticket counters on the other side of the building.

Frontier waived its usual change fee to encourage passengers to catch earlier flights. “Let’s try and get as many people out ahead of the storm as we can,” Frontier spokesman Joe Hodas said.

After running out of bedding for stranded passengers during the first storm, airport managers lined up cots and blankets and urged food vendors to ensure they had plenty of supplies on hand.

In New Mexico, Interstate 40 remained closed Friday morning from Albuquerque to Santa Rosa, with numerous crashes were reported after a storm swept through.

Residents of Cheyenne, Wyo., also braced for another snowstorm. Heavy snow began falling around dusk, and forecasters said up to a foot was expected.

In California, a powerful winter storm left tens of thousands of people without power as winds gusted to near-hurricane force. Forecasters warned of dangerous winds, with gusts over 70 mph, through Friday morning in the valleys and mountain passes.