DENVER (AP) — A powerful spring blizzard stranded travelers at Denver’s airport and shut down hundreds of miles of highway in Colorado, Wyoming and Nebraska as it spread into the Midwest on Wednesday.
Snow blown by gusts up to around 50 mph made it unsafe for planes to land or take off at Denver International Airport, leading officials to close it around midday. The airport reopened about seven hours later.
Airport spokesman Heath Montgomery says two of the six runways are open, and the airport will be fully operational by Thursday morning.
More than 1,300 of Wednesday’s 1,500 scheduled flights were canceled, he said.
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The closure came hours after long flight delays caused by power outages at the airport’s fuel depot and deicing supply and the cancellation of about a third of the airport’s daily flights.
The last time a blizzard closed the airport was in 2006, for two days.
The system is moving to the northeast across the Plains and into Michigan. The worst effects of the storm were expected later in the day in South Dakota, but strong winds were in the forecast all day.
In Denver, the road to the airport was also impassable for much of the day because of blowing snow. The road reopened Wednesday afternoon, allowing passengers to escape to town, airport spokeswoman Stacey Stegman said.
Meanwhile, restaurants extended hours and some will be open all night for crowds of stranded travelers.
Hundreds of people with suitcases and duffel bags stood or lay around the terminals. Some travelers leaned against walls, bags strewn at their feet, as others charged their phones.
Some passed the time by hanging out at the airport’s bars and restaurants.
Alicia Bailey was headed back to Atlanta after a business trip in Colorado Springs. She had a treacherous, white-knuckle, four-hour drive to the airport only to learn her flight was delayed several times and then finally canceled.
“I had a nice little cocktail, and that calmed the nerves down because I was frazzled,” she said.
The wind and the heavy, wet snow typical for a spring storm weighed down power lines and snapped them into one another, causing many outages and flickering lights in Colorado and Wyoming.
The storm was mainly hitting the eastern, flat halves of those states, shutting down long stretches of highways.
“It’s pretty much kicking our hineys,” Tim McGary of the Wyoming Department of Transportation said. “It’s bad enough we can’t keep up with it. That’s why everything is closed.”
Highway officials issued a rare order for drivers to stay off interstates in the Denver area unless they have chains, snow tires or four-wheel drive vehicles to avoid causing accidents. Normally, that’s a warning issued for drivers in the mountains.
In Wyoming, the Cheyenne Veterans Affairs Medical Center, which serves veterans who live up to 150 miles away, opened its doors late because of the storm.
Even politics has to take a snow day in Wyoming as Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders and former President Bill Clinton both canceled planned campaign events in the state.
Wyoming Democratic Party Executive Director Aimee Van Cleave said it’s disappointing that the events had to be canceled but she was hopeful that both campaigns could reschedule visits before the April 9 party caucuses.
In Minnesota, the State Patrol advised against unnecessary travel in the south-central part of the state Wednesday afternoon because of low visibility.
Cities expected to see some of the heaviest accumulations include Rochester in Minnesota and La Crosse in Wisconsin. The storm is forecast to track mostly south of the Twin Cities.
Associated Press reporters Bob Moen in Cheyenne, Wyoming, Sadie Gurman, Donna Bryson and Thomas Peipert in Denver and Samantha Shotzbarger in Phoenix contributed to this report.