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U.S. Highway 550 mountain passes closed; no estimated time for reopening

Snowfall and rain expected until end of week in Southwest Colorado
A snow thrower moves snow off U.S. Highway 550 near Coal Bank Pass on Tuesday during recent storms. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)

Southwest Colorado residents expecting warmer spring temperatures may want to hold onto their winter jackets a little longer as more snow is expected throughout the week.

Yet another atmospheric river is passing through Southwest Colorado bringing snow primarily to the higher elevations.

Storms earlier this week have increased Durango’s snow total by 1 to 3 inches, said Scott Stearns, meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Grand Junction.

Cortez received about the same amount while Pagosa Springs received slightly more at 5 to 8 inches. Wolf Creek Pass received 24 inches Sunday through midday Tuesday.

Coal Bank and Molas passes were expected to receive about 15 inches through Tuesday, while Purgatory Resort reported 16 inches since Monday morning.

The U.S. Highway 550 mountain corridor north of Durango was expected to close at 5 p.m. Tuesday with no estimated time for reopening as a result of adverse weather conditions. Northbound travelers will encounter a closed gate just north of Purgatory, near Cascade Creek and southbound travelers will encounter a closed gate near Ouray.

U.S. Highway 160 east of Pagosa Springs over Wolf Creek Pass was expected to close at 6 a.m. Wednesday with no estimated time for reopening. Eastbound traffic will be stopped near Treasure Falls and westbound traffic will be stopped just west of Wolf Creek Ski Area near the summit of the mountain pass.

Stearns said snow is likely to occur Wednesday through Thursday morning depending on elevation with the potential for more precipitation over the weekend.

“As far as Durango specifically, it looks like for the most part, due to the warm air associated with this system in the lower elevations there, you're not going to get as much (snow),” he said.

Cars follow two Colorado Department of Transportation snowplows Tuesday near Purgatory Resort on U.S. Highway 550 as snow falls in the mountains. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)

Durango will likely receive another 1 to 3 inches from the scattered storms this week, and Cortez may receive slightly less.

Coal Bank and Molas passes may receive 1 to 2 feet of snow through Thursday morning while Wolf Creek Pass could receive up to 3 feet.

Temperatures have been lower than normal for this time of year. Stearns said while temperatures may be rising, they will still be below average for this time of year, and more moisture is expected in the near future.

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the average March temperature high for Durango is 53 degrees. The forecast calls for continued highs in the low 40s and Stearns said there could be more moisture in the area next Wednesday.

Kyle Benke, with Colorado Department of Transportation, replaces a shear pin on Tuesday on the snowblower that he is operating on Coal Bank Pass. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)

“Temperatures have been lagging behind for quite a while now and that's going to continue with the unsettled pattern going on,” Stearns said.

The Durango seven-day forecast shows a 50% chance of precipitation Friday with a slight chance of more snow or rain on Saturday during the afternoon. The forecast indicates that Cortez will have a similar weekend weather pattern.

The Colorado Avalanche Information Center rates the San Juan National Forest’s avalanche danger as “extreme” as of 4:30 p.m. Tuesday. An avalanche warning is in effect through Thursday afternoon for the southern San Juan Mountains from the La Plata Mountains to Wolf Creek Pass to Cumbres and La Manga passes.


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