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Fearsome Friday Forecast: Colorado Blizzard & Tornado Threats

Snow day in Denver! A plow works in De Boer Park to clear snow from today's blizzard.
Snow day in Denver! A plow works in De Boer Park to clear snow from today's blizzard. (Image credit: Stephanie Pappas)

Six more weeks of winter, eh? The bizarre weather outside is more like spring, with a blizzard in Denver and tornado warnings and watches elsewhere all in the same day.

One day after the groundhog Punxsutawney Phil "forecasted" six more weeks of winter, a potentially record-breaking blizzard is socking Denver today (Feb. 3). By the time the storm passes on Sunday, it could set a February snowfall record in the city. This storm is odd because big snowstorms in Denver are actually more common in spring than winter.

And more springlike weather is sweeping across the southern United States as well, with tornado watches and warnings under way from Oklahoma to Louisiana.

Rare winter storm

In the Denver, a foot (0.3 meters) of snow has fallen this morning, forcing schools to cancel classes and grounding more than 400 flights at Denver International Airport, according to AccuWeather. With temperatures around 10 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 12 degrees Celsius), winds of 40 mph (64 kph), and whiteout conditions due to snow falling at rates of up to 2 inches (5 cm) an hour, the weather in Denver is downright nasty.

Adding insult to injury, the snow is falling east of the Continental Divide, where many ski resorts are, so they will get little benefit from the blizzard.

A winter storm warning is in effect for Denver until 5 a.m. Mountain Time (7 a.m. EST) tomorrow (Feb. 4). Close to 2 feet (0.6 m) of snow could fall by then. [Weirdo Weather: 7 Rare Weather Events]

This blizzard is unusual for Denver because big storms typically hit here in the fall and spring, not the winter, according to the Weather Channel's Eric Fisher (A wild snowstorm hit Denver this past October).

Southern 'spring'

Springlike conditions are also sweeping the South, with a tornado watch in effect this morning for parts of central Oklahoma and the southeastern Texas panhandle.

"We have a fairly warm and somewhat unstable air mass over the area right now and that's partly contributing to the rounds of severe weather," said meteorologist Andy Patrick with the National Weather Service office in Lake Charles, La.

Earlier this morning, tornado warnings were issued for parts of the Texas-Louisiana border, but no tornadoes were reported to the nation's Storm Prediction Center. This springlike weather will continue to move east throughout the weekend, and "could make it somewhat favorable for some tornadoes," Patrick told OurAmazingPlanet.

A "tornado watch" is issued by the NWS when conditions in the atmosphere are favorable for tornadoes. A "tornado warning" is issued when a tornado has been spotted or after radar suggests that a tornado has formed. A "tornado emergency" is the highest level of warning, and is issued when a large, violent tornado could cause widespread damage.

While winter in much of the United States has been wimpy with little cold or snow, January saw above-average tornado action. January tornadoes are not as common as spring tornadoes, but severe weather can strike any time of the year.

Central Alabama, where tornadoes took a deadly toll in 2011, is braving the twisters again in 2012. Alabama had 10 tornadoes on Jan. 23 and another one on Jan. 26. The tornadoes included an EF-3 on the tornado damage scale, and three people were killed during the outbreak.

You can follow OurAmazingPlanet staff writer Brett Israel on Twitter: @btisrael. Follow OurAmazingPlanet for the latest in Earth science and exploration news on Twitter @OAPlanet and on Facebook.

Brett Israel was a staff writer for Live Science with a focus on environmental issues. He holds a bachelor’s degree in biochemistry and molecular biology from The University of Georgia, a master’s degree in journalism from New York University, and has studied doctorate-level biochemistry at Emory University.