Heavy rain and snow expected to flood western and central US as more than 16 million people are under flood watch
An eastbound stretch of Interstate-70 in Colorado has reopened, the state Department of Transportation said, after a nine-hour closure, leaving drivers stranded amid heavy bouts of heavy mountain snow, widespread rain and gusty winds that continue to sweep west and push into the central United States.
Much of the West is again under winter weather alert, bracing for the next round after wet, wintry conditions this week flooded roads, blew hurricane-force winds, knocked out power to thousands of people and killed five people in Oregon.
The storm hovering over Colorado is expected to leave the region Thursday morning and bring wet snow and isolated patches of rain across Kansas, Nebraska and Iowa in the evening. It will then cross Minneapolis, bringing a mix of rain, snow and ice overnight.
Meanwhile, more than 16 million people in parts of California and Nevada are on a flood watch Thursday morning in anticipation of another round of storms along the West Coast in the next two days. They include San Francisco, Sacramento, Fresno, Oakland and Reno.
In Colorado, the weather prompted the state to announce the security closure along I-70 near Silverthorne around 8 p.m. ET Wednesday.
“For much of yesterday, Colorado was above freezing with some light rain, then the rain turned to snow and the roads froze almost instantly,” the weather forecaster said. CNN, Chad Myers. “Drivers were caught off guard by the accumulation of snow and ice.”
Semi-trucks got stuck along the highway, causing traffic jams, while other vehicles struggled to get traction on steep grades, storm chaser Aaron Rigsby said, noting that he was stuck in traffic for more than eight hours.
A crowded charter bus had to be rescued, and at one point dozens of vehicles were stopped on the road and people were sleeping inside, Rigsby told CNN of what he saw.
“After about four to six hours, you can see a dramatic change in people’s tone of voice and in their behavior,” Rigsby added. Sentiments went from “That’s pretty cool,” he said, to “How long are we going to be stuck here” and “Is there enough fuel?”
Elsewhere, hazardous conditions Tuesday in Oregon left five people dead, including a 4-year-old girl, after severe weather knocked trees onto passing vehicles, state police said. Wind gusts in the state exceeded 100 mph in some areas, according to the National Weather Service.
The mighty atmospheric river — a long, narrow region in the atmosphere that can carry moisture for thousands of miles — is expected to continue to hit the western and central United States after the first cycle of Earth’s movement. easterly moisture on Thursday.
Further rains and mountainous snow will flood the coast on Friday before moving into southern California and the southwest through the weekend.
As the first wave of moisture rolled over Colorado on Wednesday night, the Denver and Boulder areas saw up to 2 inches of snow per hour.
More than 9 inches of snow had fallen on Boulder and 7.1 inches were reported at Denver International Airport on Thursday.
“Heavy snow will accumulate on tree branches and power lines, possibly causing them to snap and lead to power outages. Expect slippery road conditions. Hazardous conditions could impact Thursday’s ride morning,” warned the National Weather Service in Boulder.
Meanwhile, another bout of wetness is expected to hit the west coast on Thursday morning before a more powerful surge triggers heavy rain in the evening. This storm system is expected to remain focused over northern California, southern Oregon and northern Nevada from Thursday evening through Saturday morning before eventually moving into southern California and the Four Corners region during the rest of the weekend.
Snowfall over much of the west over the next five days is expected to be between 1 and 7 inches in lower elevation areas and between 1 and 2 feet in higher elevation areas. Some isolated areas could see more than 2 feet.
The drought-stricken region is enjoying a brief respite as much of central California and northeastern Nevada have already seen up to 2 inches of rain, with some higher elevations reaching up to 4 inches. . By Saturday, these areas could receive another 2 to 4 inches of rain or up to 6 inches in higher elevation areas.
A warning of slight risk of excessive rain over several days for parts of northern California has been issued by the National Weather Service.