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An unseasonably late snowstorm dumped more than three feet of snow in mountainous areas of Boulder County on Thursday, knocked out power to homes, left roads a slippery mess and shut down mountain schools.

Spotters for the National Weather Service reported 38.2 inches of snow fell about 5 miles to the northeast of Ward — the highest reported in the county — but 36 inches were reported near Allenspark and 28 inches about 4 miles east-northeast of Nederland.

A spotter in Ward itself reported 21 inches at 11 a.m. and 15 inches of snow had fallen in Nederland proper by 8 a.m.


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Boulder County Sheriff's Office Sgt. Clay Leak said deputies responded to numerous vehicles that had slid off of roads, including a road grader near Ward, and tow trucks were still removing vehicles as of about 8 p.m.

He said that Boulder Canyon and U.S. 36 heading out of Lyons toward Estes Park were shutdown because of crashes, vehicle slide-offs and vehicles having trouble getting through, but both roads had reopened by 6 p.m.

"One of our mountain guys reported that two to three feet of snow started at about 8,000 feet," Leak said.

Boulder County closed trails and trailheads at Rabbit Mountain, Hall Ranch and Heil Valley Ranch because of the weather, and the Boulder Valley School District Closed its four mountain schools. The district announced on Thursday evening that the schools would be closed again on Friday.

Xcel Energy reported outages affecting about 4,500 customers in western Boulder County on Thursday, but Xcel spokeswoman Michelle Aguayo said the crews had been prepared for the winter weather and were out restoring power to those experiencing outages.

"We've had crews that have been dedicated to restoration during this weather activity," Aguayo said. "We were prepared."

Orion Hurley, who lives on Magnolia Road, said his power had been out as of 7 a.m. Thursday.

"We're fortunate that we have a wood-burning stove, so we are just shoveling and going to the woodpile, trying to keep our baby warm," said Hurley, who has a 15-month-old daughter who was not happy about being stuck inside.

Snow totals in Boulder County in inches

Boulder: 5.3

Longmont: 2.5

5 miles northeast of Ward: 38.2

2 miles east-southeast of Allenspark: 36 inches

Nederland: 15

4 miles east-northeast of Nederland: 28

4 miles west-southwest of Eldorado Springs: 26

1 mile north of Louisville: 6.5

2 miles northwest of Superior: 7.5

Closures and cancellations

Columbine Elementary School's 40th annual Mile Marathon is pushed from Friday until 9 a.m. Wednesday at 3130 Repplier Dr. in Boulder.

Weld County Road 10 is closed between Colliers Boulevard (WCR 3) and WCR 5 through the weekend until further notice. Motorists are advised to use WCR 12 as an alternate route.

Erie farmer's market has been postponed until May 25.

The hot air balloon launch planned for 6:30 a.m. Friday as part of the Erie Town Fair and Balloon Festival has been canceled due to snow. So far, the Saturday and Sunday launches and events still are on schedule.

All roads on the east side of Rocky Mountain National Park were closed Thursday to vehicle traffic until further notice. This includes U.S. 34 from the Fall River Entrance, U.S. 36 from the Beaver Meadows Entrance and Wild Basin Road.

"She has cabin fever," Hurley said. "It's been a trial today for sure."

The snow came earlier than had been initially forecast, and weather officials blamed lower temperatures than had been expected. The county remains under a winter storm warning until 6 p.m. Friday.

Far less snow fell in Boulder and Longmont, but the slushy roads led to police placing both cities on accident alert. The wet weather was at least partially to blame for a small power outage in northwest Longmont. Boulder officials also reported that the snow was breaking tree branches in the city.

Local meteorologist Matt Kelsch reported 5.3 inches of snow fell on Boulder as of 5 p.m. — a record, because only trace amounts of snow have fallen on the city on May 18, and that was in 1971. Any snow that fell after 5 p.m. counts toward May 19, the record for that day being 1.5 inches set in 1960.

Longmont-based meteorologist Don Lewis reported 2.5 inches had fallen on the city by about 6 p.m.

The unseasonable weather prompted the opening of emergency warming centers in Boulder and Longmont, which will open again on Friday as the storm is expected to begin tapering off. A day shelter also opens at 9 a.m. Friday at the First United Methodist Church in Boulder.

Alan Kirkpatrick was working at the shelter at St. Andrews Presbyterian Church in Boulder on Thursday evening where about 30 people had already arrived when the doors opened at 7 p.m. He said 77 people came there Wednesday night and they had expected about that many Thursday.

"Hopefully the word got out," Kirkpatrick said. "A lot of people don't have gear, or they do have gear but they have mental issues and can't keep it together."

A handful of workers manned the shelter, taking names and helping people find a place to lie down in a large room. They were short on blankets, and there wasn't much food to go around, but someone had brought a supply of "freshies" — clean socks for people to swap out their dirty ones.

"If you have been in the army, or homeless, you know to take care of your feet," said Greg Wilson, who was checking people in at the shelter.

Warmer weather is ahead. NWS meteorologist Jim Kalina said snow should begin to taper off by noon Friday and is not expected to stick around much longer.

"It will probably melt pretty quickly," Kalina said. "And then Saturday highs will be in the 50s and partly sunny, so it should melt really quickly on Saturday."

Staff Writer Mitchell Byars contributed to this report.

John Bear: 303-473-1355, bearj@dailycamera.com or twitter.com/johnbearwithme