Larry Lollar, with his dog, Barlow, used cross-country skis in fresh snow at Denver’s City Park Golf Course on Wednesday. The season’s first storm dropped at least a foot of snow – three times the city’s average for October. Kevin Moloney for The New York Times
By KIRK JOHNSON
GOLDEN, Colo. — A heavy, out-of-season winter storm slammed into Colorado and southeast Wyoming on Tuesday night, delivering in one roundhouse punch more snow than the Denver area typically gets in all of October. The piling on then continued through Wednesday, with a total of 12 to 14 inches falling in some places in foothill communities like this one, west of Denver, and even more in the higher peaks and passes of the Rockies.
Many schools and some highways were closed, with scattered power failures and traffic accidents reported as residents awoke to 10 inches or more of wet snow for the morning rush.
The wider, noisier tale was told in leaves.
With many trees still in brilliant fall foliage, the leaves acted like millions of tiny scoops, or perhaps snow shovels, holding the snow and snapping branches that a month from now could probably have held firm and skeletal against the season’s worst hits. The falling branches took down power lines, clogged local streets and woke some people up in the night with arboreal groans, pops and crashes.
Xcel Energy, the region’s biggest power provider, reported 107,000 customers still without electricity as of late Wednesday afternoon. A company spokesman said 150 crews were out clearing limbs and lines, but that power might not be back until Thursday for some residents and businesses.
Sections of Interstate highways in Wyoming and Colorado were closed, and residents faced maze-like driving conditions in many neighborhoods clogged with tree limbs and snow.
In Fort Collins, north of Denver, the snow-load split a 30-foot Chinese elm down the center of its trunk.
The Red Cross set up a shelter in the high school in Loveland for people with no electricity. Temperatures were expected to plummet in the storm’s aftermath, to the mid-teens by Thursday morning.
Five people in the Occupy Denver protests, at a park in the city, were hospitalized for weather-related exposure complaints, protesters said in a posting to their Facebook page.
Although the Denver area averages only about four inches of snow in October, according to the National Weather Service, the month can offer extremes of early-bird winter weather or leftover summer heat. Just Monday, for example, a record high for the date — 80 degrees — was set in Denver, and temperatures were expected to be back into the high 50s by Saturday.
Autumn snow in the mountains has already left its mark this year, allowing some of the earliest opening dates for skiing, with one resort, Wolf Creek, about four hours southwest of Denver, starting operations before midmonth after a storm dumped more than three feet of powder.
Meteorologists said Wednesday’s storm was a good omen for Denver, which was mostly parched last winter, with only about 23 inches of snow in the city from September to May. The Denver metro region sits just northwest of the vast swath of drought that stretches into New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas.
“We’re thinking it won’t be as dry as last year — that’s our guess, and 8 to 10 inches is a really good start,” said Jim Kalina, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service.