Areas of Douglas County saw up to 20 inches of snow March 23, with dangerous conditions and multiple crashes closing highways and stranding more than 100 motorists. Some public safety officials called it the most challenging day since a 2006 blizzard brought several feet of snow to Colorado.
Despite pleas on social media from the Colorado State Patrol, Douglas County Sheriff's Office and Colorado Department of Transportation for people to stay off the roads during the blizzard, vehicles still flooded the highways.
“We try to do out best to advise folks and sometimes they heed our advice and sometimes they don't,” said Sgt. Derek Castellano, of the Douglas County Sheriff's Office.
The National Weather Service reported 16 inches of snowfall in Castle Rock, Castle Pines and Highlands Ranch and 20 inches in Parker. Wind gusts reached up to 45 mph, limiting visibility and creating very hazardous traveling conditions.
Major roads, including Interstate 70 and C-470 east and west of the metro area, and I-25 between Castle Rock and Colorado Springs, were closed for large portions of the day because of numerous accidents. Even snow plows and emergency vehicles were having trouble in the heavy, blowing snow.
By late afternoon, the Douglas County Sheriff's Office reported 84 calls by stranded motorists asking to be rescued. By evening, there were 71 calls still pending to assists motorists, Castellano said.
The Colorado National Guard was sent in to assist with rescue efforts on I-25 and State Highway 83.
Eventually, all motorists were rescued and taken to a shelter in Kirk Hall at the Douglas County Fairgrounds. The shelter, which was prepared for 100, reached capacity at 9:30 p.m. Another dozen motorists seeking shelter were then directed to New Covenant Church in Larkspur.
Castellano said many motorists were stranded because they drove around barricades and got stuck. Others were unprepared for blizzard conditions.
By 9:30 a.m. March 24, the Kirk Hall shelter no longer was needed, while the Larkspur shelter was cleared by noon.
On its Facebook page, the sheriff's office thanked "the numerous fire departments and search-and-rescue teams that assisted with rescue operations throughout the evening.”
Storms like the one March 23 don't come along often, Castellano said. "It's the most challenging one we've encountered since 2006."
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