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Consecutive storms to bring more snow to Southwest Colorado

Roads could become treacherous; avalanche danger is high
Durango could see as much as 16 inches of snow over the next week as two storms move through Southwest Colorado on Tuesday and Friday. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald file)

Southwest Colorado will see more snow this week as a series of storms sweep through the region starting Monday evening and lasting into Saturday.

The National Weather Service issued a winter weather advisory from 5 p.m. Monday to 5 a.m. Wednesday from Cortez to Pagosa Springs and Wolf Creek Pass.

Cortez could see 4 to 8 inches and Durango 5 to 8 inches through Wednesday morning, said Erin Walter, a NWS meteorologist.

“We’ve been seeing wave after wave with this moisture, and that is what we are expecting to happen this evening and overnight,” Walter said Monday.

“As we move through the evening, we are expecting a bit of a wind shift and that’ll help drive snow levels down to the Four Corners area and our lower valleys along the U.S. Highway 160 corridor (Tuesday) morning,” Walter said.

Accumulations will be even higher in the mountains with some areas of the San Juan Mountains near Pagosa Springs receiving almost 3 feet of snow, according to NWS projections.

Wind gusts up to 40 miles per hour will also sweep parts of the region.

Snow showers will begin Monday evening and intensify into Tuesday with the bulk of snow falling Tuesday through Tuesday evening.

“As you creep closer and closer to the foothills, (snowfall) starts to ramp up,” Walter said.

Colorado Department of Transportation plans avalanche mitigation operations on Colorado Highway 145 at Lizard Head Pass 7:30 a.m. Tuesday. Drivers will encounter periodic closures throughout the morning, spokeswoman Lisa Schwantes said in a news release. Traffic will be stopped at various locations between Rico and Trout Lake.

“That’s the only one we have scheduled right now, but I’m sure we're going to have more as we continue to get more snow,” she said.

A strong low pressure system in the Pacific Northwest produced the storm and is responsible for Southwest Colorado’s recent winter weather.

That same low pressure system will bring more snow Thursday afternoon into Friday.

The models vary half a week out, but 4 to 8 inches of snow could again fall on Cortez and Durango.

“That does look like a strong system, too, especially for the Four Corners and the San Juans,” Walter said.

Flurries will start Thursday afternoon, but Friday will see higher snow totals that taper off on Saturday. Skies will clear on Sunday, Walter said.

Temperatures will dip Tuesday and remain in the mid to upper 20s, with nightly lows in the teens throughout much of the week.

The second storm arriving later in the week will send temperatures plummeting around New Year’s Day.

“Saturday and then again on Sunday those are the coldest days because that is a much colder system,” Walter said.

Though skies will clear, forecasts predict negative temperatures along the U.S. Highway 160 corridor, with a low of minus 5 degrees Sunday morning, Walter said.

Weather impacts

The snowpack as of Monday in Southwest Colorado, measured by the snow’s water content, was at 112% of the most recent 30-year average for the San Miguel, Dolores, Animas and San Juan basins and 120% of Gunnison Basin’s average, according to the National Resources Conservation Service.

For some, the recent snow has been a welcome sight.

“We’ve probably had 2 foot (of snow) or better, but that’s what we were wanting,” said Lorraine Taylor, who lives in Mayday along County Road 124 and La Plata Canyon near Hesperus.

“I’ve got a good driving horse. If I could’ve just gotten a sleigh, we could have been sledding Christmas,” she said.

In Silverton, snow has been falling sideways since Wednesday, much to the delight of those who live there, said DeAnne Gallegos, executive director of the Silverton Chamber of Commerce and a spokeswoman for San Juan County.

“Every local I’ve run into has just been thrilled,” she said.

“We are currently living in a snow globe and somebody shook the globe,” she said.

However, the weather has not been without problems.

High winds closed Kendall Mountain Ski Area on Sunday and travel over Red, Molas and Coal Bank passes has been difficult with near zero visibility at times, Gallegos said.

“We all plan our lives coming and going in and out of the community … but that’s kind of par for the course for us,” she said.

Adverse weather conditions, including heavy snowfall and blowing snow, closed Wolf Creek Pass from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday, Schwantes said.

Road conditions could once again deteriorate with more snow on Tuesday and Friday as people travel during the holidays.

“From everything that we are hearing from the National Weather Service and their forecasts, we are going to have pretty treacherous conditions, especially on the high mountain passes,” she said. “If anyone can hold off travel, we advise them to do that.”

Snow also may affect travel at Durango-La Plata County Airport.

“Certainly, anyone who’s traveling during the periods of forecasted heavier snowfall needs to keep a close eye on any delays or cancellations from their airlines,” said Director of Aviation Tony Vicari. “We don’t really have any kind of gauge on what that would look like. Hopefully, the impacts are minimal. But there’s definitely a likelihood of some degree of cancellations or delays if the storms come through.”

However, it’s often the effects of storms on major airports that disrupt travel at DRO, Vicari said.

Durango’s hub of Denver International Airport topped flightaware.com’s “Misery Map,” which tallies airport on-time performance, on Monday afternoon with 97 flights delayed and nine canceled as of 5:10 p.m. Newark Liberty International Airport was second with 64 delays and nine cancellations.

DRO has the equipment and crews to handle the forecasted snow, Vicari said.

“Our staff is at the ready,” he said. “This is what we prepare for all year-round.”

Avalanche danger

Avalanche danger was high Monday evening, and the Colorado Avalanche Information Center posted an avalanche warning through Tuesday for the North and South San Juan Mountains forecast zones. Travel in, near or under backcountry avalanche terrain is not recommended, the center said.

“The snowpack needs some time to adjust right now, and it’s not really getting very much time to do that,” said Ethan Greene, executive director of CAIC.

“With each storm, the danger is going up a little bit, and then we get a break and it drops down a little bit. But the overall message is that we’re in a pretty dangerous period for avalanches. Most of the fatal accidents that happen actually happen at considerable or moderate (danger ratings), rather than high,” he said.

A backcountry skier was killed by an avalanche near Cameron Pass in north central Colorado on Friday, marking the the first avalanche fatality in the state this season.

Ski area totals
  • Purgatory Resort reported 7 inches of snow in the last 24 hours and 27 inches in the last four days Monday afternoon. Nine of 12 lifts and 72% of terrain are now open after recent snow.
  • Wolf Creek Ski Area reported 10 inches of snow in the last day on Monday and 2½ feet over the last three days. Wolf Creek has received 130 inches of snow so far this year.
  • Hesperus Ski Area reported 1 inch of new snow for the last 24 hours and 13 inches in the last three days as of Monday afternoon.
  • Telluride Ski Resort has received 5 inches of snow in the last 24 hours on Monday and 13 inches in the last three days.

ahannon@durangoherald.com

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