While the precipitation is forecast to end late morning Saturday, drivers heading out for winter break should bundle up as they are likely to find winter travel conditions throughout the day.
At 7:20 p.m. Friday, the Colorado Department of Transportation closed both Red Mountain Pass – because of an avalanche – and Wolf Creek Pass – because of a jack-knifed semitractor-trailer. There was no estimated time of reopening for Red Mountain, but Wolf Creek reopened just after 8 p.m.
“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. In the Durango area, you might see an inch or two.”
The freezing temperatures, with lows in the single digits Saturday and Sunday, come after soggy conditions turned slippery Friday in Southwest Colorado, leading to numerous traffic crashes, some temporary road closures and a number of electrical outages.
Huge snowflakes started falling about 8 a.m. in Durango, 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.
A mix of rain and snow had little effect on the morning commute for drivers who made it to work by 8 a.m., but it was an entirely different picture for those who got to work around 9 a.m.
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., LPEA was working on 16 outages affecting 123 customers.
“All outages have been snow-related as of this writing,” LPEA said in the 5 p.m. release, “and as of this writing, no outages have been caused by vehicular collisions (with power poles).”
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.
A blast of cold air was expected to cause flash freezing Friday evening across the state, 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 winter 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.
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.
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.
“This is going to be a very significant event for Durango,” Bhatt said. “It’s going to get cold, it’s going to be snowy and then we’ll have avalanche danger after that.”
Bayfield Middle School planned to take sixth-graders to Wolf Creek Ski Area on Friday, but the trip was canceled as a result of road conditions.
Durango, Bayfield, Ignacio and Pagosa Springs were under a winter weather advisory until 11 p.m. Friday, and most of the surrounding region is under a winter storm warning until 11 a.m. Saturday.
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.
There are no more storms predicted until Christmas weekend, Moyer said.
“The current weather models are all showing something, but the timing and intensity are to-be-determined,” he said.
See a storm-related photo gallery.