State, city and county plow crews are bracing for a mega-snowstorm arriving in the Four Corners area.
The storm is expected to last for three days and could dump up to a foot of fresh snow in Cortez by Friday, said Jim Andrus, a local meteorologist observer for the National Weather Service.
A National Weather Service update Wednesday night forecast that a winter storm could dump up to 33 inches of snow on the San Juan Mountains through Friday.
Montezuma County is expected to get 3 to 5 inches of snow on Wednesday night, 3 to 7 inches on Thursday and 2 to 4 inches on Thursday night. Light snow is forecast for Friday.
At least 2 feet of snow is expected in the San Juan Mountains.
Local plow operators are ready, officials say.
In Cortez, three plow trucks with sand spreaders start rolling about 3 a.m. during snow events, said street foreman Don Cornett.
The first priorities are to clear the streets around Southwest Memorial Hospital, local schools, bus routes, Cortez Police and Montezuma County Sheriff’s Office.
Essential commuter routes such as Main Street, Montezuma Avenue, Empire Street and others are also a priority, then crews fan out to side streets. A fleet of six smaller plows attached to three-quarter-ton pickup trucks are also dispatched during big storms.
“We’re ready, the plows are topped off with sand, fueled up and ready to go,” Cornett said. “We have backup drivers ready as well, and a contractor on standby.”
And if it gets real bad, front-end loaders will be dispatched.
In Montezuma County, a crew of 25 will operate 12 plows and 13 graders, said Road Supervisor Rob Englehart.
“Our equipment and crew are ready,” he said. “We’ve been keeping up so far.” Plowing is timed to accommodate commuters in the morning and evening.
The 10-hour shift begins at 4 a.m. In general, they hit the main thoroughfares first, including County Roads 25, 29, L, M, N, P, W, 16, 15, BB and CC. Keeping bus routes cleared is also a priority. The county has more than 700 miles of roads.
One challenging issue is keeping up with blowing snow that frequently piles up on roadways in Pleasant View, Yellow Jacket, Goodman Point and around Dolores and Mancos.
The Southwest District for the Colorado Department of Transportation covers eight counties, which are organized into 21 patrol areas. For major plowing operations, the district has 115 employees operating 107 pieces of snow plowing equipment, including 62 heavy-duty plow trucks with sanders, plus a fleet of graders, snow-blowing trucks, dump trucks and other heavy equipment, said Lisa Schwantes, CDOT public information officer.
“Our crews have been going at it 24/7, with three overlapping shifts,” Schwantes said. “This is the fifth wave of bigger storms, so we all took a big breath and are ready for this next winter blast.”
Adverse weather will primarily impact the Uncompahgre Plateau, the Northwest San Juan Mountains, the Southwest San Juan Mountains, the La Garita Mountains, the Eastern San Juan Mountains and the river basins in the Four Corners region.
CDOT officials advise the best strategy during adverse weather is for travelers to be patient and if possible find a safe haven to await better travel conditions. But if you must drive during the storm, CDOT assures the public that patrols across Western and Southwestern Colorado are gearing up to maintain and clear the roads.
CDOT urges motorists be prepared for road conditions that can change or decline quickly. Motorists should travel with caution because they may also encounter delays due to the adverse weather, difficult driving conditions and potential road closures.
Heavy accumulations of snow in the high country will likely mean avalanche control operations will be required to keep high country passes safe for the traveling public. Travelers are urged to visit www.COtrip.org for possible closures and travel conditions.
Andrus said the series of snowstorms is being delivered from the North Pacific Ocean, then south and southeast into New Mexico and the Four Corners area.
“The positioning of the storm track is working to wrap moisture around itself and deliver it to us from a number of different directions,” he said. “A low-pressure trough is embedded in the upper atmosphere in the West.”
Combined with the wetter El Niño weather phenomenon, the current weather pattern has created the perfect storm to help break the region’s drought pattern. As of Tuesday, snowpack in the Animas, Dolores, San Juan and San Miguel basins was at 118 percent of historic averages.