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Overnight storm blankets Cortez area with fresh snow

Spencer Burke, Andrew Reagan and Rex take a morning walk through the snow in Cortez after work was delayed because of the storm. (Jim Mimiaga/The Journal)
Ski areas build up bases; multiple vehicles slide off road

An overnight storm brought a wintry blast of 80 mph winds, blowing snow and icy roads to Southwest Colorado early Wednesday morning.

Snowfall totals include 4 inches for Dolores, 6 inches for Rico, 1.5 inches for Cortez, 2 inches for Durango and 5 inches for Pagosa Springs, said Mark Miller, meteorologist for the National Weather Service.

The snow started falling about 4 a.m. Wednesday, said Colorado Department of Transportation Maintenance Supervisor Dusty Ledford, then moved on to eastern Colorado, along with its 80 mph winds.

As of 8 a.m., snow accumulation had reached 3 to 6 inches along U.S. Highway 160 between Cortez and Pagosa Springs with 10 inches on Wolf Creek Pass, Ledford said.

National Weather Service observer Jim Andrus said the fast-moving storm brought high winds of 64 mph at 3:14 a.m. and 59 mph at 4:02 a.m. in Cortez.

He said recent cold, polar storms have broken down the high-pressure ridge over the Four Corners and brought rain and snow, Andrus said.

The risk of avalanches in the southern San Juan Mountains has increased to “considerable” above and below treeline – Level 3 on a scale of one to five. The Colorado Department of Transportation plans avalanche control work in mountain passes Thursday morning.

Father Lorenzo Uribe, of St. Margaret Mary Catholic Church, shovels snow in front of the parish office. (Jim Mimiaga/The Journal)
The storm added a winter touch to area yards decked out for the holidays. (Jim Mimiaga/The Journal)
Local businesses were out shoveling Wednesday morning, including Nikki Rosenbaugh, of Obe's Angels and Thrift Store on Main Street in Cortez. (Jim Mimiaga/The Journal)

Schools took caution Wednesday, with the Mancos and Dolores school districts delaying their school days by two hours.

Roads were icy and snowpacked throughout Montezuma County. Multiple vehicles slid off Colorado Highway 145 and U.S. Highway 160.

The snowy road conditions contributed to a rollover Wednesday morning in the 6000 block of Road 21, said Jay Balfour, chief of the Cortez Fire Protection District. No injuries were reported.

“We have not had any big crashes, knock on wood. Everyone should take it slow on the road,” Balfour said about 11:30 a.m.

A much weaker storm will move into Colorado Thursday, but will be mostly north of Southwest Colorado, Miller said. It could generate a few flurries locally.

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Then the high pressure system returns over the area and with it more dry weather. The next chance for moisture in Cortez is the middle of next week.

A semitrailer rolled over about 5 a.m. Wednesday on U.S. Highway 160 near Bayfield. No injuries were reported. (Courtesy of Colorado State Patrol)

Purgatory Resort reported 4 inches of fresh powder from the storm, and a 24-inch base. Telluride Ski Resort reported 6 inches and a 22-inch base, and Wolf Creek Ski Area reported 9 inches and a 48-inch base at midway.

U.S. Highway 550 between Rockwood and Purgatory Resort had snowfall between 9 and 12 inches; and Coal Bank, Molas and Red Mountain passes had 12 inches of drifting snow and high winds during the morning commute.

Two semi-trucks crashed near Bayfield and numerous motorists have slid off the road, said Capt. John Trentini with the Colorado State Patrol in Southwest Colorado.

Officers were responding to help drivers, but road conditions have made recovery efforts challenging.

“We’re doing what we can with what we’ve got,” Trentini said.

“If you don't have essential travel, stay home,” he said.

The Durango Herald contributed to this report.