A fall storm that moved into Southwest Colorado Friday morning was expected to dump 6 inches of snow in the Durango area – more than weather forecasters had initially predicted.
Snow started falling about 9:15 a.m. Friday and intensified shortly before 11:30 a.m., blanketing parks, vehicles and the hilltops overlooking the city.
Roads became slick about 2:30 p.m. As of 4 p.m., the Durango Police Department had responded to six crashes, in addition to a few stranded motorists.
U.S. Highway 160 at County Road 44 near Mancos Hill was closed from around 4 p.m. to just after 6 p.m. because a vehicle carrying an “oversized load” had spun out and blocked both the eastbound and westbound lanes, according to Colorado Department of Transportation spokeswoman Lisa Schwantes.
“Right now our officers are able to keep up with the crashes that are coming in,” said Cmdr. Nick Stasi, with the Durango Police Department. “As always with winter weather, we remind drivers to slow down and give extra space for the cars in front.”
Snow started accumulating very fast as the day went on, making it “challenging for plow operators to keep up,” according to CDOT.
Southwest Colorado’s five major mountain passes were icy and snowpacked Friday afternoon. But all five remained open as of 4:15 p.m.
The Pacific storm favored the southern and central Colorado mountains, said Dave Byers, meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Grand Junction.
“Durango looks like a 70% chance of getting 6 inches or more of snow by the end of tonight (Friday),” Byers said.
He expected a half inch to three-quarters of an inch of moisture from the storm, which is up from the one-tenth to two-tenths of an inch that was predicted earlier this week. Meanwhile, the mountains could receive 1 to 2 feet of snow from the storm, he said.
“In the last few days, it has really picked up,” Byers said. “The southern mountains are catching the brunt of it.”
The snowy weather didn’t stop Liz Ferrill and her family from stopping by Cream Bean Berry for a Unicorn Sundae.
“We thought it might be a festive way to celebrate,” said Ferrill, who was visiting from Snowmass, where the first snow occurred in September.
For others, the snow provided the impetus they needed to swap out tires or purchase new snow tires. Andre Payne, a sales person at J/P Tire in Durango, said the phone began ringing shortly after 9 a.m. with people wanting to switch to snow tires.
“We’ve been pretty busy,” he said.
It is not unusual for drivers to wait until they see the first snow and then want to swap out tires. The tire shop began advising customers to switch to snow tires about three weeks ago. Some people take the advice, other choose to wait.
“We can always tell people what to do, but if you're not ready for it then you have to suffer the consequences of waiting two hours or maybe getting in an accident,” Payne said.
Byers said Friday’s storm was the result of a southwest flow pulling moisture from Southern California, Arizona and the Gulf of California.
As the moisture-laden atmosphere hits the San Juan Mountains, it wrings out the moisture, he said.
Temperatures are expected to cool off as the storm makes its way out of the region this weekend. The highs this weekend will be in the upper 30s, and the lows could dip into the single digits, he said.
“There’s still a northerly flow that is pulling cold air down out of Canada,” he said.
Byers characterized Friday’s storm as a “shoulder storm” between summer and winter, but he said it is a sure sign that a regular track is settling in for Southwest Colorado.
“We’re expecting regular storms … from now on, more into that winter pattern,” Byers said.
Residents can expect mostly clear conditions through Wednesday, with clouds moving in the following day ahead of another storm that looks “very similar” to Friday’s storm, Byers said.