COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. - A strong spring storm raked eastern Colorado with destructive winds and blinding snow Friday morning.
In typical Colorado spring storm fashion, whether you saw rain or snow depended on your elevation, but no one escaped the wind.
PALMER DIVIDE BLIZZARD
The ominous forecast prompted administrators in blizzard-prone school districts 49 and 38 to close on Friday even before the sun set on Thursday. Their instincts, and the predictions of forecasters, were validated by the time the morning commute arrived.
The northern El Paso County school districts are situated on the Palmer Divide north of Colorado Springs. The ridge that separates northern Colorado from southern Colorado is famous for its extreme weather and this storm was no different.
Close to a foot of snow fell from Monument to Black Forest to Falcon and Calhan. Powerful winds blew the snow fast, reducing the visibility to zero at times and piling up drifts several feet deep.
The main highways that connect Colorado Springs and the communities east and northeast of town remained closed through mid-afternoon.
In places where highways quickly became impassable, drivers were stranded, many abandoning their cars on the side of the road. El Paso County Search and Rescue responded in special vehicles to rescue stranded drivers.
A Red Cross shelter was set up at Patriot Learning Center, 1990 Swingline Road in Falcon, for drivers who were stranded on US 24.
Earlier in the day, the two highways that link Colorado Springs to the Denver metro area were closed, but I-25 and Highway 83 reopened by mid-morning.
Wind-driven snow piled up several inches deep across northern Colorado Springs Friday morning too, while the central and southern parts of the city primarily saw a rain/snow mix or just rain.
In Teller County, where winter storm warnings were issued, the snow piled up several inches deep and was blown around by gusting winds.
No one in eastern Colorado was spared the powerful wind gusts of this spring storm. Pueblo appears to have been ground-zero for the destruction.
Massive trees crashed down on homes across the city and power lines snapped, plunging tens of thousands of people into the dark.
At Lake Pueblo State Park, the hurricane-force wind gusts created massive waves that destroyed docks and sank at least one boat.
While Pueblo was hit especially hard, reports of power outages and downed trees and power lines were widespread all around southern Colorado. There are reports that the Lower Arkansas Valley's power grid also took a beating.
For natives, snow is synonymous with spring break in Colorado.
Indeed, students at many school districts statewide already had the day off because they are on spring break this week. That includes District 49 and the Woodland Park School District.
Colorado School Districts do not coordinate their spring breaks, so while some students already had the day off anyway, others woke up to a much-coveted snow day.
THE GOOD NEWS
It's not all bad news.
Eastern Colorado is in the grips of moderate to severe drought and the region has been plagued by wildfires as of late.
Friday's storm didn't bring enough rain and snow to end the drought, but every drop of water helps, and it should reduce the fire danger for at least a few days.
Another bright spot? It could have been worse for airline travelers.
DIA did not receive as much snow as expected, which mean fewer delayed and canceled flights than first feared.