DENVER -- New Year's travelers jammed the Denver airport yesterday, trying to get out of town ahead of a snowstorm that threatened to close runways and gum up the nation's busy holiday travel season for the second time in a week.
By evening, 8 inches of snow had been recorded in the Denver area, and snow falling at a rate of 4 inches an hour piled up 18 inches in the foothills west of the city. The heavy snow forced officials to close Interstate 25, about 60 miles north of the city near Wyoming.
Governor Bill Owens again declared a statewide disaster emergency, just a week after a pre-Christmas blizzard shut the airport for two days, stranded 4,700 holiday travelers and backed up flights around the country.
The broad storm stretched from the Rocky Mountains into the western Plains; winter storm warnings were in effect for parts of Colorado, Wyoming, Nebraska, Kansas, New Mexico, and the Texas Panhandle.
Managers at the nation's fifth-busiest airport drew up snowplowing plans, and airlines urged ticket-holders to flee Denver early or delay departures until after the storm. United Airlines and Frontier, which together account for 80 percent of traffic at Denver International Airport, canceled more than 180 flights.
Mill and Ann Younkers arrived hours early to check in for an evening Frontier flight back home to Naples, Fla. The couple's trip to see their daughter in Denver was delayed three days by the first storm, and they did not arrive until Christmas morning.
Mill Younkers said he was holding a backup reservation for Sunday and was ready to reclaim his rental car if needed.
The airport and airlines called in extra workers, and security lines moved relatively quickly. But long lines formed at ticket counters as travelers tried to adjust their plans. The Frontier line snaked across the cavernous terminal and wrapped around behind the lines of other airlines on the other side of the building.
Frontier waived its usual change fee to encourage passengers to catch earlier flights. "Let's try and get as many people out ahead of the storm as we can," Frontier spokesman Joe Hodas said.
Some travelers made frantic arrangements to salvage their plans.
Ray Szalay, who missed his flight home to Cleveland after getting stuck in traffic on Interstate 70, grabbed his best chance -- a ticket for Houston, where he hoped to find a connecting flight.
After running out of bedding for stranded passengers during the first storm, airport managers lined up cots and blankets and urged food vendors to ensure they had plenty of supplies on hand.
In Denver, trucks covered streets with deicer, offices closed early, and residents stocked up on groceries in preparation for the storm.
Federal courts closed early, as did many government offices and businesses in Denver and other cities in the state's main population corridor along the Rocky Mountain Front Range.
Residents of Cheyenne, Wyo., also braced for the second snowstorm to hit the area in a week. Heavy snow began falling around dusk, and forecasters said up to a foot was expected.