2008 Newsmakers – Old Man Winter/Mother Nature
December 26, 2008
ASPEN ” Old Man Winter and Mother Nature teamed to keep Roaring Fork Valley residents on their toes in 2008 ” and not just because of deep snow and massive puddles during the spring thaw.
There also were conditions that had Aspen-area residents scratching their heads ” like a nasty wildfire in mid-April, when everyone was far more concerned about heavy spring runoff.
A look back on the weather in 2008 wouldn’t be complete without going back to the fall of 2007. Dry conditions had some local skiers and riders worried the slopes wouldn’t open at Thanksgiving. They did ” but barely. Then Old Man Winter turned on the tap Dec. 2, when 21 inches of snow fell, and didn’t turn it off. All winter.
Midvalley residents shoveled snow off their roofs for the first time in decades. Snow removal companies were booked for weeks in Aspen. The public bus system was overwhelmed by standing-room-only crowds. Travel on Highway 82 was often treacherous despite the best efforts of the highway department. Most importantly, the skiing was epic.
Winter’s bounty carried over to January, when it snowed on 20 of 31 days. Snow sliders would have been satisfied if the snow had quit then. But winter’s intensity only grew in February. The Aspen Skiing Co. reported 28 feet of snowfall by the end of February at Snowmass. The 312 inches measured there at the end of the month exceeded the full-season average of 300 inches.
March snowfall didn’t break records, but it added to an unbelievable base. With all that snow, glee over the powder turned to concern over flooding. Basalt stocked sandbags. Homeowners gnawed fingernails. Pitkin County instituted a river watch program, in which cops monitored river depth at night.
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Amid all the concern about flooding, Mother Nature threw the valley a curve with a wildfire on April 15. Although the high country was still buried in snow, the grasses, brush and even trees on the valley floor had dried out in dragon’s breath-like winds. Those winds kicked up embers from a burned and supposedly extinguished wood pile in a pasture along Catherine Store Road. The sparks ignited grass, brush and cottonwood trees and a fast-moving fire soon threatened 150 homes. Only three houses received minor damage, thanks to a little luck and fast action by the fire departments of Carbondale and Basalt.
Meanwhile, a cool spring prevented the expected floods from ever materializing. Local rivers and streams ran at high levels for a long period, delighting river runners, but the big surge never came, to the relief of thousands.
Fall 2008 provided a near carbon copy of fall 2007. There was slightly more snow from a big storm in October, but conditions were dry in November and allowed the opening of only limited terrain at the ski areas on Thanksgiving.
Apparently, Old Man Winter appreciated how much everyone enjoyed last ski season, so he’s putting in a repeat performance. Snowfall at Aspen Highlands and Snowmass surpassed the 100-inch mark around Christmas. And snowfall at the top of Aspen Mountain actually exceeded last season’s level as of press time, thanks to another dump.
There were already 13 days this ski season with four or more inches of powder, through Dec. 26, and the forecast promises more.