October Surprise: Winter's First Big Blast Hits West

Forget Halloween. It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas in much of the West, where residents woke up to the first major snowstorm of the year.

The slow-moving autumn storm is whacking the Rocky Mountain region with wind and snow, sending residents who were wearing short sleeves just a few weeks ago digging for their winter coats.

"I knew it was coming, but I didn't think it would be this bad, this heavy, this early," said Denver resident Tammy Silva.

In parts of the West, visibility fell below a quarter mile, creating dangerous driving conditions and countless fender benders. More than 70 accidents were reported in Wyoming alone, according to the Wyoming Department of Transportation.

Thankfully, there were no fatalities, but for truckers all over the West, the situation grew tense.

"Sometimes we pray they close the road," said truck driver Tony Normheim.

"The plows are out, but the roads are kind of icy and snow-packed," traffic operations specialist Ryan Drake, from the Colorado Department of Transportation, told The Associated Press.

He advised drivers to "be patient and take your time."

In a storm like this one, Denver plows will run 12-hour shifts, 24 hours a day.

October is normally a quiet month for weather in this area, but there have been bad storms in the past. In 1997, 19.1 inches of snow fell in an October surprise storm.

In this storm, drivers are facing approximately 30 inches of snow in the mountains and foothills, and up to 19 inches of snow in blizzard conditions through the urban areas.

Denver Storm Causes Travel Delays

The same heavy winds that are creating white-out conditions in the West are suspected to have caused the cable snap on the San Francisco Bay Bridge Tuesday night.

"The system actually developed more over the Pacific states," said meteorologist Paul Kocin. "The jet stream really dove very, very far south, even into northern Mexico south of California. They reported some very strong winds from the same system that eventually gave rise to the storm."

At Denver International Airport, cancellations and delays put a wrinkle in travel plans.

"We're scheduled to fly out tomorrow," said one woman Wednesday night. "We had some concerns so we went ahead and tried to get out of town today."

But for local schoolchildren, many of whom were sent home early Wednesday, a snowstorm means just one thing: a happy snow day.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.