Road conditions were slippery in Montezuma County all day Saturday, after a winter storm dropped 3 inches of snow in the region overnight.
A winter storm warning remained in effect until 4 p.m. Saturday above 8,000 feet, and moderate to heavy snowfall was expected in Montezuma County. An avalanche warning was issued for the San Juan mountains from 2:19 to 6 p.m. High temperatures Saturday were about 26 degrees, with overnight lows around 6 degrees, a trend that was expected to continue through Sunday.
“After a couple of days in the freezer, by Tuesday you’ll be back up around 40 (degrees) for a high,” said meteorologist Ben Moyer of the Grand Junction office of the National Weather Service at about 7 p.m. Friday. “The San Juans in general are likely to see another 8 to 12 inches above 8,000 feet.”
A blast of cold air was expected to cause flash freezing Friday evening across Colorado, including the Denver metro area, where the Colorado Department of Transportation urged evening commuters to get an early start to avoid black ice.
Overnight temperatures were expected to drop by as much as 50 degrees in some parts of the state, said Shailen Bhatt, executive director for CDOT.
“We’re not seeing temps hitting the forecast highs that we thought they might today (Friday), which means that the pavement temps are not going to come up as much as we had thought,” he said.
CDOT has more than 900 snowplows deployed across the state for the weather event, which is expected to produce up to 6 inches in the Denver area, 2 feet in the mountains and up to 3 feet around Red Mountain and Wolf Creek passes.
CDOT performed avalanche mitigation Friday morning on Red Mountain, Molas and Coal Bank passes, resulting in temporary closures, said Lisa Schwantes, spokeswoman for the highway department. Intermittent closures with delays up to one hour are expected through the weekend. A two-hour closure is expected from 6:30 to 8:30 a.m. Saturday on the west side of Wolf Creek Pass.
High winds downed trees and power lines in the Pikes Peak region and southeastern Colorado. Gusty winds blew over a trailer on Interstate 25 near Walsenburg at about 11 p.m. Thursday, setting off a 2,000-acre wildfire as the trailer dragged and sparked on the ground. The interstate was closed south of Pueblo to all commercial traffic because of high winds.
On Friday, Cortez got rain. Durango got snow. That changed early Saturday morning. The National Weather Service issued a winter storm warning at 4:56 a.m. for the southwest region, including Telluride, Grand Junction and Hesperus, predicting winds traveling at 20 to 30 mph and gusting up to 65 mph. Montezuma County got about 3 inches of snow, along with rain and sleet. Originally the storm warning was only predicted to last until 11 a.m., but it was extended to 4 p.m. for areas above 8,000 feet. In Cortez, temperatures stayed below freezing most of the day, and meteorologist Jim Andrus predicted the snow and ice would probably take several days to melt completely.
“High temperatures will be in the mid-40s the next few days, but given the sun is so low in the sky and the days are so short, we could still have measurable snow through the middle of the week,” Andrus said.
Because of travel concerns, the Montezuma-Cortez swim team canceled its trip to Gunnison for a scheduled meet on Friday and Saturday. The M-CHS wrestling team was still planning to make the trip to Grand Junction for the Warrior Classic at Grand Junction Central, and the M-CHS Rumble in the Jungle boys basketball tournament was still scheduled to continue as planned.
Huge snowflakes started falling about 8 a.m. Montezuma and La Plata counties, and it didn’t take long to turn already-slushy roads into icy roads.
Crash reports started trickling in about 8:15 a.m., including a rollover south of Durango near Bondad Hill on U.S. Highway 550 and a crash east of Bayfield on U.S. Highway 160. By 9:30 a.m., numerous vehicles had slid off the road or had traction problems, including a tow truck on Colorado Highway 172 and a Coca-Cola truck near the top of Farmington Hill.
The wet snow was putting weight on electrical lines, causing spot outages and “blinks” across La Plata Electric Association’s service area by mid-morning.
At the height of the outages Friday afternoon, the co-op reported 60 outages in Archuleta and La Plata counties, affecting more than 2,000 customers. By 5 p.m., 16 outages affected 123 customers.
LPEA expected the weight of the snow to decrease as temperatures dropped overnight. Crews were on call overnight to be able to respond to any further outages.
On Saturday morning the icy road conditions moved to Montezuma County. Colorado State Patrol troopers got more than 50 calls from the area before 10 a.m., and the Montezuma County Sheriff’s Office was also busy with traffic-related incidents, causing some deputies to be called away from the Shop with a Cop event at Montezuma-Cortez High School. A crash between two semi trucks was reported near mile marker 45 on Highway 491, and several vehicles slid off the road on Highway 160 near Dolores and Dove Creek. But most of the accidents were minor, with no major injuries being reported as of late Saturday morning. Trooper Alisha Danko said many of the accidents could be attributed to drivers going too fast for conditions.
“Slow down,” she advised people planning to drive over the weekend. “Make sure your vehicle is equipped for winter weather. Focus on the journey, not the destination...anything you can do to sway the odds in your favor before getting behind the wheel is what we’re hoping drivers are doing.”
Purgatory Resort was reporting 9 inches of new snow as of 4:50 p.m. Friday, and Wolf Creek Ski Area had received 10 inches as of 6 p.m.
Andrus said that Saturday’s storm brought Montezuma County’s precipitation for the year up to 97 percent of normal, which will be a good thing in the long run for the area’s water supply.
“The first half of December was pretty dry, so I was starting to get worried,” he said. “But it’s becoming a good year, just like last year.”
Although no more snow is in next week’s forecast, he said there was “an outside chance” Cortez could get a white Christmas.
The (Cortez) Journal and Durango Herald contributed to this report.