From heat to snow: Rocky Mountains see 60-degree plunge

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Diane Lee cleans the windshield of her sports-utility vehicle as she heads home after a day at her job with the Clear Creek County Sheriff's Department while a storm packing high winds and snow sweeps through the intermountain West Tuesday, Sept. 8, 2020, in Georgetown, Colo. Forecasters predict that the storm will continue through Wednesday before moving out on to the plains. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

Summer came to an abrupt halt in parts of the Rocky Mountains on Tuesday as temperatures reaching into the 90s plunged about 60 degrees in less than 24 hours, with a powerful surge of cold air from Canada unleashing snow and damaging winds in several states.

The roller coaster weather ripped up trees by their roots, piled up snow that shut down parts of the scenic road through Glacier National Park and knocked out power to tens of thousands. But the temperature drop is helping with wildfires in Colorado and Montana that had ballooned in hot, windy weather and forced people to flee their homes.

Heat and strong winds also hit California and parts of the Pacific Northwest over the holiday weekend, igniting destructive wildfires.

Snow fell in Colorado, Montana and Wyoming. Far from the ocean and its moderating effect on weather, Colorado is no stranger to extreme shifts. However, Denver’s temperature drop, from 93 on Monday to 32 on Tuesday, is “much earlier than we usually get this,” state climatologist Russ Schumacher said.

The National Weather Service has recorded six other days since 1872 where the temperature dropped by 60 degrees or more in Denver, but they were all during the winter. The latest plunge came after the city hit a record high of 101 on Saturday, one of its hottest days ever in September, he said.

While Schumacher, an associate professor at Colorado State University, believes climate change has been contributing to the heat across the U.S. West that has been fueling wildfires, it's not clear yet whether it's also playing a role in the cold front and the extreme temperature drop.

In Utah, where temperatures plummeted by 40 degrees, wind gusts of nearly 100 mph roared through Salt Lake City, downing trees and canceling the first day of online school. Officials warned people to stay inside to avoid flying debris, downed power lines and other dangers. Several semitrailer trucks blew over on northern Utah highways.

Josephine Bradbury’s two daughters were looking forward to remote classes after months of missing friends and teachers because of the coronavirus pandemic. But the girls couldn’t log on for their first- and sixth-grade classes, so they all went to their Salt Lake City school for help, fighting whipping wind and passing a broken tree in front of the playground.