El Niño-fueled blizzard cancels hundreds of flights in Denver

Skiers rejoice, but Denver travelers are grumbling — or stuck at home — as a storm dumps up to 20 inches of snow. Meteorologists say it's just the first taste of a record-setting El Niño. 

National Weather Service
National Weather Service map of Tuesday Nov. 17, 2015 weather patterns. Denver is forecast to get 8 inches of snow.

For a phenomenon whose name means "the kid," El Niño 2015 is growing up quickly.

Even in August, scientists were eyeing unusually high temperatures in the Pacific Ocean, hotter than record-setters in 1997, and wondering if a "godzilla" El Niño were on its way. 

On Monday evening, Coloradans got their first taste of this year's El Niño-fueled storms, when a snowstorm predicted to drop up to 20 inches hit the state, canceling more than 200 flights at Denver International Airport, with almost 50 anticipated cancelations for Tuesday morning. Winds of up to 50 m.p.h. and blowing snow were predicted to make dangerous commutes, even as snowfall lets up later in the day.

Denver International Airport warned passengers that arriving flights could be delayed up to 90 minutes because the Federal Aviation Administration is slowing down traffic there to prevent longer delays

An official blizzard warning is in effect from 8 p.m. Monday until Tuesday afternoon. 

The Associated Press reports that a section of Interstate 25 south of Denver near Castle Rock has been closed because there were so many vehicles stranded there, including two jack-knifed semi-trailers. Heavy snow and whiteout conditions have also shut down a 76-mile stretch of Interstate 70 from the eastern edge of the Denver area to Limon as well as Interstate 25 near the New Mexico border.

Still, snow is a normal part of life in Colorado. "It's going to be a fun, all-hands-on-deck storm, kind of a thing," Colorado Department of Transportation spokeswoman Amy Ford told the Denver Post. 

Ski resorts were debating early openings in hopes of luring out-of-staters, the Post reported, although the Colorado Avalanche Information Center warned skiers to be careful. 

The blizzard is expected to move on towards Kansas Tuesday afternoon after dumping 10 inches on Denver and up to twice in the southeast, as storms approach Kansas. East coast cities have also fretted over whether a powerful El Niño will bring heavy snows this winter.

The National Weather Service has warned that melting snow may cause flooding along the Gulf Coast, as well.

But El Niño, an ocean warming phenomenon that develops every few years, has already made his presence well known prior to the snow season.

According to the Los Angeles times, it's been blamed for Indonesia's wildfires and haze, and has also brought drought to parts of Africa and South America, even as it's predicted to give Californians a much-needed wetter winter, after bringing rain and floods to parts of Texas, Oklahoma, and Colorado this spring.

Not all meteorologists anticipate this year's storms will outdo previous record-setters, particularly 1997. But nonetheless, most are impressed already at the strength of El Niño.

Bill Patzert, a NASA climatologist based in La Cañada Flintridge, California, compared 2015's possibly unprecedented storms with Holly Holm's recent upset of mixed martial arts UFC champ Ronda Rousey.

This El Niño "just flipped the 1997-98 El Niño out of the ring," he told the Los Angeles Times. 

This report includes material from Reuters and the Associated Press. 

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