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Winter weather could bring feet of snow to parts of Southwest Colorado

Wolf Creek Pass could see up to 50 inches
Two back-to-back storms are forecast to bring roughly a foot of snow to Durango, 6 to 10 inches to Cortez and up to 50 inches to Wolf Creek Pass starting Monday afternoon into early Thursday, according to the National Weather Service. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald file)

Winter storms over the next few days will dump feet of snow on Southwest Colorado.

Two storms moving closely together have brought snow to the area with snow totals and wind that could make travel treacherous through Thursday.

The first storm began Monday afternoon and will stretch into Tuesday before a slight lull Tuesday afternoon slows snowfall at lower elevations. The second storm will follow shortly behind, bringing heavier snow Tuesday evening through Wednesday evening.

“(Tuesday) I wouldn't say it’s a complete ending of all the snow, but the valleys might have a short break,” Sanders said. “The mountains it looks like will continue on the lighter side, although somewhere near the Wolf Creek area could remain in heavy snow.”

The National Weather Service has issued a winter weather advisory and a winter storm watch this week for much of Southwest Colorado.

The National Weather Service has issued a winter weather advisory through 5 p.m. Tuesday for the cities of Cortez, Dove Creek, Mancos, Durango, Bayfield, Ignacio and Pagosa Springs, calling for 3 to 6 inch snow totals.

Tuesday night snow will pick up once more, moving from the mountains into the valleys and bringing higher accumulation to the area. The second storm will taper off Wednesday evening at lower elevations and wrap up in the mountains by early Thursday.

The National Weather Service announced a winter storm watch from 5 p.m. Tuesday until 5 a.m. Thursday for Southwest Colorado.

“The heaviest snow is definitely in that Wednesday time frame out of both of these storms,” Sanders said.

Southwest Colorado will see significant snow totals.

Between the two storms, Cortez is forecast to receive 6 to 10 inches, while the Hesperus area could get up to 2 feet, Sanders said. Anywhere from 8 to 14 inches could fall in Durango, and Pagosa Springs could more than double that with 18 to 22 inches.

Several feet of snow are expected to fall on mountain passes. Projections show Wolf Creek Pass receiving up to 50 inches and Red Mountain, Molas and Coal Bank passes 30 to 35 inches.

In addition to snow, the storms will bring wind that will make travel more challenging.

Wind gusts could reach 40 mph through Tuesday afternoon and 35 mph Tuesday evening through early Thursday morning, according to the National Weather Service.

Two storm systems are expected to dump more than 2 feet of snow this week in the high country, including up to 50 inches at Wolf Creek Pass. (Courtesy of National Weather Service)

High winds and snow will make driving over mountains dangerous, especially during the early part of the week.

“(Southwest Colorado) is definitely looking at blowing, drifting snow and reduced visibility,” Sanders said. “Even though it's a lighter round of snow (through Tuesday), conditions will probably be pretty bad.”

Commuters will see hazardous travel conditions with icy and snowpacked roadways. Winds could bring down tree branches and rivers could face near whiteout conditions at times, according to a winter weather advisory issued by the National Weather Service Monday afternoon.

“Many of the major highways will be impacted and travel will be difficult if not impossible in some areas,” forecasters wrote in a hazardous weather outlook Monday.

“The weather we are expecting over the next few days will really make travel treacherous,” Dusty Ledford, Durango area maintenance supervisor for the Colorado Department of Transportation said in an email. “It would be wise for folks to change any travel plans they may have and consider staying off the roads if they are able to do that.”

CDOT crews began 12-hour snow shifts 4 p.m. Monday, and those rotations will extend until Thursday. CDOT plans to treat highways with liquid salt brine and a salt-sand mixture for traction, with crews giving special attention to stretches of road that usually have icy conditions, Ledford said.

The two storms mark the first significant snow since the end of December. Most winter storms have tracked north of Colorado this winter, but a ridge of high pressure over the West Coast has aligned the storms with Southwest Colorado, Sanders said.

Unlike a brief winter spell in the beginning of February, temperatures during the two storms will remain at or above freezing. Following the storms, the region will return to warmer and drier weather, Sanders said.

As the National Weather Service follows the storms, the agency will consider additional winter storm watches, advisories and warnings.

A winter storm watch indicates weather conditions are favorable for a winter storm.

The National Weather Service issues an advisory when it expects snow of 3 to 5 inches within 12 hours or blowing snow.

A winter storm warning is the most severe notice with heavy snow of 6 inches in 12 hours and 8 inches in 24 hours forecast.

A winter weather advisory will be in place at lower elevations at least through the first storm and warnings will remain in the mountains through the duration of the snow, Sanders said.

No matter the designation, Southwest Colorado is set to receive a lot of snow.

“Boy, it looks big,” Sanders said.

ahannon@durangoherald.com

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