After Governor Bill Ritter issued a disaster declaration Thursday in response to Colorado blizzard conditions, the National Weather Service reported that the peak of the storm passed Fort Collins late Thursday afternoon but snow fall is expected to subside throughout the evening.
The Blizzard Warning, issued by the National Weather Service for Colorado early Thursday morning, was changed to a Winter Weather Advisory at 4:46 p.m.
The governor issued the declaration, activating the National Guard to assist in rescue operations and authorizing up to $200,000 in state funds for emergency assistance.
Ritter’s call follows a Blizzard Warning issued by the National Weather Service for Colorado early Thursday morning that closed CSU and cancelled classes for the first time since March 20, 2003.
“Our first and foremost concern is the health, safety and welfare of Colorado’s citizens,” Ritter said in a statement. “We have activated the State Emergency Operations Center to monitor conditions, coordinate the state’s resources and respond as needed.”
Ritter asked that residents limit their travel and encouraged employers to release employees early.
According to the governor’s statement, “It is predicted that this blizzard will drop between one and two feet of snow in communities along the Front Range and in excess of three feet of snow in the foothills, mountains, and southwest part of the State.”
CSU also closed it doors at noon on Thursday, cancelling classes and shutting down all its office operations.
Previously, CSU closed on Dec. 20, 2007 due to several storms, but classes were not cancelled because class wasn’t in session and on March 20, 2003, when it canceled classes after 2 p.m.
But while the snow caused a number of accidents across the state and halted university operations and several events, most students and CSU climatologists said the storm is not the worst Colorado has seen.
“This storm was furious for a few hours this morning, but compared to big storms of the past this one will not have huge or lasting impacts,” said Nolan Doesken, a CSU Climatologist and contributor to the National Drought Monitor.
Nolan, who said the Front Range needs five to seven inches of moisture by mid-June in order to avoid severe drought, concluded that the snow will buy Colorado a little more time. He added however, “The moisture in this snow is greatly appreciated, but is not going to add up to enough to end drought.”
The blizzard blew into campus with a bit of irony only a day after 20 tons of man-made snow was dumped onto the Lory Student Center West Lawn for the Cricket Wireless Campus Rail Jam Tour.
Students among a group of about 20, who shoveled snow throughout the morning to craft two snowboarding ramps on the LSC West Lawn, said they understood the irony as they gazed at the remnants of the dirty, grayish “fake” snow jutting out of the morning powder across the lawn.
“I think it’s awesome,” Robert Duran, a freshman civil engineering major said of the man-made snow, laughing, after he finished brainstorming about how he would go about “skiing down the sidewalk” on the west side of the LSC.
James Leaverton, a Colorado native who was among about 10 others snowboarding in celebration of their cancelled physics test, said, “This is tiny snow. I don’t know why they cancelled school but I’m glad they did.”
Freshman English major Kaelyn Wood, who hails from California, was excited to celebrate her first snow day.
When asked if she was surprised by the several inches of snow and 45 mile-per-hour winds blowing through campus as she made her 9:30 a.m trek to class, Wood said, “Kinda, but we weren’t expecting a snow day.”
Others were not so pleased.
“I’m up here from Parker, Colorado because my son is here for the introduction day tomorrow,” said Luanne Fordiet, a resident of Parker. “And we pretty much got in a ground blizzard here about 20 miles out of here. There’s a massive car pileup with semi-trucks on top of cars, so we barely made it here alive. I’m glad we’re here.”
Bohlander said that the university has an overall emergency and severe weather plan set in place and that conditions are “very carefully monitored” in order to determine the university’s closure status.
Facilities Management is responsible for snow removal on campus and Bohlander said top-priorities include access areas for the police, fire department and other emergency vehicles. Other areas of focus include the Main, South and Foothills campuses and especially those utilized by the “7,000 who live on campus.”
Fort Collins was put on accident alert status until 6:30 p.m. Thursday and all city facilities and several major roads were closed throughout the day. While the Fort Collins Police Services could not be reached for comment, their Web site reported that multiple accidents occurred within the city.
Portions of Trilby Road and Taft Hill were closed early Thursday and Trilby later re-opened at 3:00 p.m.
Highway 287 and I-25 were closed from Wellington to the Wyoming border.
Bohlander encouraged Fort Collins and CSU community members to check the CSU Web site for updates about the blizzard and university conditions or call the Snow Hotline at 970-491-7669.
According to the National Weather Service website, snow is expected to clear out overnight, with light snow continuing through the early morning today, with up to an inch of accumulation possible. Total snowfall from the storm is estimated to be between 8 and 16 inches.
Assistant News Editor Jim Sojourner and staff writer Kelley Bruce Robinson contributed to this report.
Assistant News Editor Madeline Novey can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.