Road closures, power outages reported as storm wreaks havoc on Denver metro area and beyond

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Gov. Jared Polis authorized the activation of the Colorado National Guard and declared an emergency as a blizzard continued to sweep across the Front Range and into the state's Eastern Plains the afternoon of March 13.

The National Guard was activated to work in conjunction with the state office of Emergency Management and local EMS and law enforcement personnel for "search, rescue and life-safety operations primarily focused on stranded motorists," according to a news release from the Colorado Department of Transportation.

Douglas County was among the areas hit hardest by the storm, and more than 700 people were rescued from stranded vehicles and taken to shelters, authorities said.

School districts as well as many city, county and state offices were closed around the Denver metro area as the late-winter storm rolled in the morning of March 13. The storm brought heavy snowfall and fierce winds.

Treacherous travel conditions were reported throughout the metro area as the blizzard, dubbed a bomb cyclone for its intensity, picked up steam. Public-safety officials urged people to stay off the roads.

By mid-afternoon, the heaviest snow bands were east of I-25, according to the National Weather Service. There, wind gusts of up to 70 mph were being reported.

By the time the storm wrapped up, at least 5 inches of snow was common throughout the metro area. Some of the heaviest snowfall totals in the metro area were in Golden at nearly 13 inches and  Aurora at 10 inches, with 8 inches being reported in Lone Tree, Castle Pines and Parker, according to the weather service. Further to the east, Ponderosa Park, near Elizabeth in Elbert County, reportedly was hit with 14 inches of snow.

Douglas County commissioners signed a local disaster emergency declaration in the late afternoon, according to a statement posted by the sheriff's office on Twitter.

"This declaration will make state resources accessible to Douglas County for the most urgent needs during this blizzard event," the Tweet said.

Across the metro area, Xcel Energy reported "extensive" power outages as of 2 p.m. Some media reports put the number of people without electricity at roughly 200,000 at one point. 

"High winds have caused damage to a number of lines and poles," Xcel reported on its website.

Road closures mounted as the storm's severity increased.

The I-25 corridor in Douglas County was completely closed for much of March 13, and the Colorado State Patrol said it would remain closed overnight from Lone Tree to Colorado Springs. I-25 from Castle Rock to Ridgegate reopened the morning of March 14, but the stretch south of Castle Rock remained closed.

As the storm pounded the area March 13, stranded motorists were being rescued between Larkspur and Monument, the state patrol said in a mid-afternoon Twitter post. Douglas County had two emergency shelters open: one at New Covenant Church, 77 Perry Park Ave., Larkspur, and the other at Kirk Hall at the Douglas County Fairgrounds, 500 Fairgrounds Road, Castle Rock.

Also on March 13:

I-70 was closed in both directions between Idaho Springs and Golden as of noon, according to the Colorado State Patrol's Twitter feed.

I-70 east of Denver to Kansas will remain closed overnight through mid-day March 14, CDOT said.

Pena Boulevard was closed in both directions between 40th  and Denver International Airport, the Denver Police Department said on Twitter about noon. All of the airport's runways were closed as of 1:30 p.m., DIA said on Twitter. Airlines had canceled more than 1,000 flights.

RTD issued a news release shortly after 1:30 p.m. stating that some of its services were being affected.  Buses were running 15 minutes behind schedule and light rail service was also "running slow," among other issues.

Two of the metro area's major shopping malls, Park Meadows and Southwest Plaza, closed at noon, according to a news release.

Meanwhile, east of the metro area, stranded motorists were being reported in Elbert County, according to a Twitter post by county officials. All county roads were closed due to lack of visibility and high winds, the Tweet said.

Elbert County set up two emergency shelters: one at the county fairgrounds at 95 Ute Ave. in Kiowa and the other at Frontier High School, 589 S. Banner St., Elizabeth.

All major roads remained closed in Elbert County the morning of March 14. About 400 people were in shelters as crews looked to rescue the final 20 or so people who remained stranded, according to county officials. 

In northern Colorado, tragedy struck March 13 when a member of the Colorado State Patrol was hit and killed by a vehicle.

About 11:20 a.m., Cpl. Daniel Groves, 52, was on scene after a vehicle slid off the road on westbound I-76 in Weld County, the state patrol reported on Twitter.  Another vehicle lost control and struck Groves, who was outside his patrol vehicle. The driver of that vehicle, a 58-year-old Centennial man, sustained moderate injuries, according to the Tweet. He faces possible charges but had not been charged as of the afternoon of March 13.

High speed in poor driving conditions was a possible cause, CSP said. 

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