Snow driven by winds approaching 100 mph shut down schools, highways, air travel and businesses in the Pikes Peak region Wednesday and left more than 1,000 stranded in their cars awaiting rescue.
The rapidly intensifying storm — known as a bomb cyclone — caused whiteout conditions for drivers caught in its fury and prompted the governor to call out the National Guard and El Paso County to declare an emergency.
Officials pleaded with people to stay home and off the roads.
“The more people on the road, the higher likelihood of crashes happening today,” the Colorado State Patrol warned on Twitter. “We are giving you complete permission, 100 percent guaranteed, no questions asked to STAY HOME TODAY.”
The storm started as forecast with heavy rains early Wednesday, turning to snow by late morning as the winds picked up. One gust was measured at a record 97 mph around 1:20 p.m. at the Colorado Springs Airport, which canceled more than 40 flights.
It was a hurricane with a Colorado twist. As the wind roared, snow piled up across the region, with 6 to 10 inches in northern El Paso County and about a foot in Woodland Park.
Even before the storm hit, schools, churches and synagogues and local government waved the white flag, announcing late Tuesday that they didn’t plan to open Wednesday. All the region’s large school districts and several small school districts on the eastern plains announced they will be closed Thursday as well.