A major winter snowstorm hit Southwest Colorado overnight and continued in full force Wednesday morning, dumping 5 inches of snow, closing schools and shutting down U.S. Highway 491.
Four inches fell in Dolores overnight. The storm picked up about 8 a.m. and dropped another four inches in one hour. The blizzard is fueled by strong winds and created whiteout conditions on roads.
One driver reported that visibility from Cortez south to Towaoc was reduced to less than 75 feet, and traffic backed up behind semitrailers at 25 mph as the snow piled up.
The chain law in effect on U.S. Highway 491 from Lewis north to Utah border, according to a 2 p.m. Montezuma County Emergency Alert. Four-wheel drive or snow tires or chains on passenger vehicles required.
While U.S. Highway 491 is open for thru traffic, officials advise the public to stay off roadways if possible because of dangerous road conditions.
In Cortez, 5 inches of snow fell between 7:45 a.m. and 8:45 a.m. under windy conditions, reported Jim Andrus, National Weather Service observer.
“That is the most intense snowfall I've ever seen,” Andrus said.
A winter storm warning remains in effect for the region until 5 a.m. Thursday.
U.S. Highway 491 was reported closed at 7:50 a.m. from mile marker 42 to mile marker 65 because of a vehicle crash, according to the Montezuma County Emergency Alert System. It was unknown how long it would be closed.
Andrus said the National Weather Service expected heavy snow to subside by noon Wednesday. Expect intermittent snow showers throughout the day and night, he said.
Government offices for the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe closed Wednesday because of severe weather, according to a Ute Mountain Public Safety alert.
The Montezuma-Cortez school district will have an early release for all schools at 11 a.m., according to a Facebook post. Buses will run at 11 a.m. No lunch will be served. Staff is released once all students are picked up. All after-school activities are canceled.
Mancos schools were on a two-hour delay Wednesday morning, then students were released around 10 a.m. for the remainder of the day.
Dove Creek schools posted at 7:45 a.m. they would be closed Wednesday because of weather conditions. At 5:45 a.m., the school district posted a two-hour delay, then decided to close because of severe weather conditions.
Montezuma County road crews are clearing roadways.
“Because of the lack of visibility it will take some time, please have patience,” the department stated in an emergency alert.