Snowplows were ready to hit the main streets of Denver and the runways of Denver International Airport on Saturday night as the metro area prepared for what could be the biggest snowstorm of the season.
The National Weather Service expected severe winter weather, including heavy snow and high winds, and a winter storm warning for Denver and northeast Colorado is in effect from midnight until 5 p.m. Sunday.
"Significant amounts of snow are forecast that will make travel dangerous," said forecasters.
"Only travel in an emergency. If you must travel, keep an extra flashlight, food and water in your vehicle."
The winter storm warning is in effect from midnight to 5 p.m. Sunday.
The National Weather Service said that the snowstorm is the result of a deepening Four Corners low pressure system that will track east, bringing upslope conditions to northeast Colorado.
The storm will likely make roads icy and snowpacked and delays at Denver International Airport are a "good possibility," said forecasters.
Snow accumulations in Denver, Boulder, Aurora, Greeley, Fort Morgan, Lakewood, Longmont and at DIA should be in the 6-to-13 inch range accompanied by wind gusts of 25 mph west of Interstate 25 and 35 or 40 mph east of I-25.
Total snow accumulation in Lakewood is expected to be 13 inches.
Laura Coale, community relations director for DIA, said that the airport is expecting the storm to hit the airport about 10 p.m. and continue through Sunday.
Coale said the airport has been informed of approximately 80 departure and arrival cancellations by airlines that fly into DIA.
"It is definitely a good rule for travelers to check their flight status with their airline or on flydenver.com," said Coale. "Also the commuter flights
Coale said currently airport personnel are checking the facility's snow equipment, topping off fluids and making preparations for the storm.
On top of the cancellations, Coale said the storm will cause delays for flights that are able to fly in or out of DIA.
The blowing snow will hamper visibility crucial to the pilots, runway snow will have to be cleared and airplanes will have to be de-iced by the airlines, she said.
Olga Romero, spokeswoman for Southwest Airlines, said that 46 flights into and out of DIA have been canceled Sunday morning. Romero said that Southwest will re-evaluate the situation at 11 a.m. Sunday to see if flights can resume.
Dan Krause, spokesman for Frontier Airlines, said that Frontier has not canceled any flights either on Saturday night or Sunday. However, Krause said the airline will continue to monitor the situation.
He said that Frontier passengers ticketed to fly into or out of Denver, Colorado Springs or Durango on Sunday or Monday will be allowed to make one itinerary change without change fees applying. The change must be made by March 6.
Mindy Crane, spokeswoman for the Colorado Department of Transportation, said that some snowplow crews came in at 5 p.m. Saturday.
She said full snowshifts for all CDOT snowplow drivers will begin at 9 p.m. Saturday with 75 to 80 plows operating 12-hour shifts in the Denver metropolitan area. She said fresh drivers will take over the 75-to-80 snowplows at 5 a.m. Sunday and the 12-hour rotations probably will continue through Monday, given the forecasted severity of the storm.
Crane said that on the Front Range and Eastern Plains, CDOT will have well over 300 snowplows.
Emily Williams, spokeswoman for Denver Public Works, said that Denver will deploy its 70 snowplows when there is enough accumulation to plow.
She said that Denver will be plowing and treating only the city's main streets because it appears less than a foot of snow will fall in Denver. Should more than a foot of snow fall, she said, Denver Public Works must go to the city council and mayor and request the money to plow the residential streets, she said.
Williams noted that a primary concern will be the winds that are expected in Denver Sunday which could cause very hazardous driving. She said motorists should be cautious.
A blizzard warning has also been issued from 5 a.m. Sunday to 5 p.m. Sunday which includes Castle Rock, Deer Trail, Limon, Larkspur, Bennett, Last Chance and Akron.
In the blizzard warning area, snow accumulation is expected to be 5-to-8 inches.
North winds of from 20 to 35 mph with gusts up to 45 mph are expected in the area on Sunday. The wind will create extensive blowing and drifting snow making visibility close to zero. Roads will be icy and snowpacked in the blizzard area.
The snow and the wind will combine to create whiteout conditions making travel extremely dangerous, said forecasters. They said that people in the blizzard warning area should not travel but if they must they should have a winter survival kit with them. If stranded, stay with your vehicle, they advise.
The National Weather Service describes the storm as "potent".
The storm is currently developing in the Great Basin and will track east-southeast to the Four Corners area by late Saturday night.
At the same time, a cold front will drop south across northeast Colorado late Saturday night.
A "deep and relatively strong upslope flow is expected to develop" behind the front with snow becoming heavier and more widespread after midnight, the weather service said.
Snowfall rates around one inch an hour will be possible with visibilities dropping to a quarter mile or less Saturday night or early Sunday, warned forecasters.
The National Weather Service said travel is not recommended after midnight.
Howard Pankratz: 303-954-1939, firstname.lastname@example.org or twitter.com/howardpankratz