The only perfect things about the storm currently pounding metro Denver are its imperfections. When the weather system finally exits the area, likely around 5 p.m. this afternoon, prognosticators expect that between six and sixteen inches of snow will have piled up in various parts of the Mile High City, and final totals for communities such as Boulder and Fort Collins are anticipated to be even higher.
The repercussions of so much white stuff have already caused closures throughout Denver and much of the state on Tuesday, November 26; those closures are certain to make the Thanksgiving travel week, always one of the busiest each year, even more difficult. Continue for the cold, hard facts.
Closures and delays
Last night, the State of Colorado let us know that "government offices in Denver, Boulder, Greeley, Fort Collins and surrounding suburban counties will be closed on Tuesday, November 26 due to extreme weather conditions." In addition, courts and probation offices will be closed in the 1st, 4th, 8th, 17th, 18th, 19th and 20th Judicial Districts. (Click here for more information.)
Likewise, Denver city government as a whole is shut down because of the storm, and RTD, which has been having plenty of problems no matter the weather, tells folks depending on the service that its operations will be affected by the snowy conditions and they should "expect delays." Cancellations of train trips are accessible on RTD's Rider Alert page, and real-time locations for light rail and buses can be found at the Next Ride link.
As for Denver International Airport, it remains open at this writing, but there have already been many changes as a result of the weather. At 11:20 p.m. last night, November 25, DIA revealed that 453 flights had been canceled, and more could certainly follow today. Travelers are encouraged to check DIA's website for information about their particular flight.
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In addition, several airlines are offering travel waivers in the face of the storm. Depending on conditions and the rules established by respective carriers, passengers may be able to change flights at no cost. Click to more information about United, Southwest, Frontier, Delta and American.
If your particular plane is still scheduled to take off, potential passengers are encouraged to arrive at the terminal two hours before their flight and to check the monitors upon their arrival for real-time security information. As a bonus, the airport has opened up its ice rink, where folks can skate for free while waiting to take to the skies.
Given what's happening right now, they're likely to have plenty of time to carve figure eights — but only if the rink gets shoveled.
Denver Public Schools, which tends to take heat whether it cancels schools or leaves them open during snowstorms, got lucky this time, since its facilities are closed throughout the holiday week. But Jefferson County Schools will be shuttered, and that's commonplace throughout the area at facilities that had planned to be open. This Denver7 address has the latest on closures and delays.
Thanksgiving week travel
Stats provided by AAA Colorado, which argued that Denver drivers were to blame for many of their own issues during a wintry blast last month, underscore the storm's terrible timing. The service calculates the number of Coloradans who'll hit various roads on or around Thanksgiving this year at 834,000 — approximately 14.6 percent of the state's population (estimated at 5,695,564 circa 2018), and a 2.8 percent increase over last year.
And that's not counting the 62,000 residents expected to travel by air (out of 4.45 million nationwide) or people using other methods of transportation, like trains and buses.
For those using their cars, AAA Colorado expects that evening commutes throughout Thanksgiving week will generate "the greatest amount of congestion," probably reaching a peak on Wednesday, November 27, when getting from point A to point B could take as much as four times longer than usual even without precipitation problems.
Here's AAA Colorado's list of "hotspots" — the worst places for vehicular traffic from November 27 through Sunday, December 1, even without snow:
Southbound I-25 at Greenland Road (Exit 167)
Northbound I-25 at 84th Avenue (Exit 219)
Southbound I-25 at US-285 (Exit 201)
Southbound CO-2 at I-25
Southbound I-25 at Spruce Mountain Road (Exit 173)
Northbound CO-121 at W. 64th Avenue
Eastbound I-70 at Havana Street (Exit 280)
Westbound CO-470 at Platte Canyon Road
Southbound I-225 at I-25 (Exit 1)
Northbound I-25 at Plum Creek Parkway (Exit 181)
AAA Colorado guesses that driving on Thanksgiving Day, November 28, or the two days following will be somewhat less terrible than heading out on December 27 or December 1, when many people will be trying to get home at the same time. Problem is, today's storm isn't the only one due this week. In its own holiday travel alert, the Colorado Department of Transportation notes that "a second, stronger storm will dig into the western regions of the state Wednesday night and continue through Thanksgiving Day and into Friday. This second storm wave will likely bring significant snowfall totals, particularly for the southern mountains."
CDOT began pre-treating major state highways — interstates 25, 70, 225, 76 and 270, as well as U.S. 6 and C-470 — yesterday, before the first flake fell, and promises to pay extra attention to flyovers, overpasses, bridges and ramps.
Drivers on the road right now will be able to judge the success of these methods for themselves. In the meantime, AAA offers these tips for surviving the storm:
If you can avoid driving, avoid driving — especially when it's busy.
Stay in: If you don't absolutely have to drive in wintry conditions, don't drive. Appointments that can be re-scheduled for later in the day, should be.
Stagger start: It almost goes without saying: The easiest way to both avoid traffic and creating traffic is to stay clear of the roads when everybody else is on them. If your employer offers staggered start times or work-from-home opportunities, look into those to avoid the morning rush.
Early or later: A good rule of thumb is to plan to arrive to work much, much earlier or much, much later than you normally would.
Before You Head Out
Time: The only way to drive safely in snow and ice is to drive slowly. Budget extra time for your morning commute. Even if traffic jams are minimal, it will take you longer to get to work because you will need to move more slowly — so avoid creating extra stress by budgeting at least twice the commute time.
Parking brake: Avoid parking with your parking brake before and in cold, rainy or snowy weather. It can get frozen and may not disengage. For automatic transmissions, simply shift into park. For manual transmissions, shift into first gear when parking facing downhill or front-in and reverse when parking facing uphill or back-in.
Wipers: Your wiper blades have been warning you for months that they're not ready for winter by streaking, screeching, or bouncing around on the glass. New wiper blades are among the cheapest pieces of safety-critical equipment you can purchase for your vehicle. They take only a couple of minutes to swap out, and most auto parts stores will do that for you immediately after purchase. Make sure you've got wiper fluid that won't freeze in winter, and plenty of it. After all, if you can't see clearly, you can't drive safely.
Snow-covered car: If your car was parked outside during the storm, completely clear off all snow and ice before heading out. That means the windshield, your windshield wiper nozzles, the windows, the hood, the roof, the trunk, the mirrors and even the running boards. Everything. Why? When you start moving, that snow and ice will start moving with you. Once dislodged, it can seriously impair your ability to see — and even fly off and endanger other motorists. Why take the risk?
Gas: Keep your gas tank at least half full to prevent a gas line freeze-up and potential long-term issues with your fuel pump. You'll be glad you have the extra gas in an emergency situation, to boot.
Tires: If your low tire pressure warning light came on, fill up your tires to the level recommended by your manufacturer (in your owner's manual or on your door jamb). This is the recommended level specifically for cold weather, so you'll want to fill up before heading out and after your car has been sitting for a while. If you can't fill your tires at home, stop to fill them off before your commute. This light comes on specifically to warn you that you might not have enough pressure for the road conditions, so don't ignore it. If, once filled, your tires fail the quarter test for tread, it's time for new tires. Avoid driving, especially in wintry conditions, until you have them.
On the Road
Gradual start: You have the greatest traction just before the wheels spin. Gentle pressure on the accelerator pedal when starting from a stop is the best method for retaining traction and avoiding skids. If your wheels start to spin, let up on the accelerator until traction returns. Do not use cruise control.
Go slow: No matter what type of vehicle you have or what type of tires you're riding, it's plainly unsafe to drive as quickly as you would in dry conditions. Normal following distances for dry pavement (three to four seconds) should be increased to eight to 10 seconds. Give yourself even more space (12-15 seconds or more) if you are new to winter driving.
Stay in your lane: On a four-lane highway, stay in the lane that has been cleared most recently. Avoid changing lanes because of potential control loss when driving over built-up snow between lanes.
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Steering: At speeds above 25 m.p.h.., steering is the preferred way to avoid a crash — as less distance is required to steer around an object than to brake to a stop. In slick conditions, sudden braking can lead to a loss of control.
Know your environment: Shaded spots, bridges, overpasses, and intersections are where you'll most likely find the slipperiest ice. Even if your commute was dry and manageable in parts, it is likely you will encounter ice along the way — so focus your attention as far ahead as possible and slow down as much as possible before driving over likely ice patches.
Manage a skid: If you lose traction and begin to skid, stay calm to regain control of your vehicle. Always steer in the direction you want the front of the vehicle to go. Do NOT slam on the brakes, which will make it harder to regain control.
Put the phone away: Put your phone in the glove box, or, if used for navigation, in a secure mount. Do not read or send text messages, place a call, check social media, browse the Internet, or adjust your GPS directions while moving. Distracted driving is always dangerous driving, and doubly so when challenging conditions demand your absolute attention at all times.
A number of highways have been closed at this hour, particularly on the eastern plains. The latest info is accessible on this CDOT page.