The heavy storms going through the area Friday impacted not only traffic on the ground but traffic in the air.
At about 9:30 p.m., the runway edging lighting at Durango-La Plata County Airport went out during a thunderstorm. American Airlines Flight 3059 had to return to Phoenix, and United Airlines Flight 4768, due in at 11 p.m., never took off. When late night flights don’t arrive, early morning departures are affected because they depend on the aircraft arriving the night before, said Tony Vicari, interim director of aviation.
“The outage isn’t relevant during the day,” he said. “American flew in an extra this morning and brought those passengers in, so the departing passengers only experienced a slight delay. The outgoing United flight was also canceled this morning (Saturday).”
An electrical contractor, who worked on the problem since daybreak Saturday, identified the trigger of the outage at about 5:40 p.m. Saturday, Vicari said. Repairs were underway at the time. If it was not repaired by nightfall, the airport could have had another night of cancellations, but it appeared the edging lights would be back in working order by dark. Vicari asked travelers to check their flight status before going to the airport.
“Man, it rained out here,” he said. “We had a crew trying to troubleshoot the outage last night (Friday), but it just wasn’t safe to have them working on electricity in the middle of a lightning storm.”
The airport received 0.82 inches of rain from 6 a.m. Friday to 6 a.m. Saturday, said Joe Ramey, a meteorologist with the Grand Junction Office of the National Weather Service. The airport has received 1.24 inches of rain in August, 0.81 above average.
“The approach lights and navigational aids at the airport were not impacted,” Vicari said. “With the navigational equipment in aircraft today, a plane could, conceivably, theoretically, land with a pretty high degree of safety without the edging lights. But it would be against most corporate policies to do it.”
Durango weather observer Corbin Reiter reported 0.52 inches fell in town between 8 a.m. Friday and 8 a.m. Saturday.
The Animas River was running high Saturday, almost twice as high as is normal for Aug. 6, after several days of rain intermixed with downright downpours in Southwest Colorado. On Saturday morning, the turbidity of the river had increased, and the flow was running at 1,360 cubic feet per second, while the average mean for the day is 673 cfs.
“There is still the potential for good heavy showers there Saturday night,” Ramey said. “The San Juans (Mountains) will still see some significant precipitation, but it will probably drop off in your valleys.”
The lighter rains at lower elevations may save areas in and close to town a repeat of Friday, which saw flooding and mudslides on city of Durango streets and La Plata County roads. But the La Plata County Sheriff’s Office cautioned drivers to be on the lookout for rocks and boulders on the road.
The Colorado Department of Transportation advised travelers to be prepared for mudslides and falling rocks in the high country. Neither U.S. Highway 160 nor 550 was reporting road or lane closures as of 6 p.m. Saturday.
A flash flood watch was in effect for the entire county from noon until midnight Saturday, according to the National Weather Service.
Temperatures are expected to be a little cooler because of the weather, with Saturday’s high predicted at 77 degrees. The weather service predicts temps will move back up to the low 80s Sunday and stay there through the remainder of the week.