Heavy snow brings Colorado to standstill
Aspen, CO Colorado
DENVER ” Even sledding hills in Durango were at risk of avalanches after a powerful storm hit southwestern Colorado Monday.
“We’re getting wet, heavy snow,” La Plata County sheriff’s Lt. Dan Bender said. “It doesn’t have to be a huge dramatic avalanche to bury someone or break an ankle or a leg.”
A storm front packing wind gusts of up to 100 miles per hour in the mountains around Silverton dumped up to 30 inches of snow in the San Juan Mountains, about 18 inches in Durango, 340 miles southwest of Denver, and sparked avalanche warnings across the area.
In northwest Colorado, snow and strong winds Monday night closed Rabbit Ears and Douglas passes. Bad weather and accidents also closed U.S. 40 between Maybell and Craig and between Granby and Winter Park as well as Colorado 13 between Craig and Wyoming.
The westbound lanes of Interstate 70 at Georgetown and the eastbound lanes at Silverthorne were shut Monday night because of poor visibility and bad conditions. And U.S. 287 from Ted’s Place north of Fort Collins to Laramie, Wyoming, was closed.
Colorado State Trooper Ryan Sullivan said no major injuries were reported. He said officers were helping drivers who slid off the road into ditches.
In Durango, city and county buildings were closed, as were the schools in the area as snow plows struggled to keep roads open. That provided a day for thousands of school children to play in the snow and prompted the warning from Bender.
“Anybody who’s going out sledding should be letting their parents know where they are, and parents be aware of the slide potential, particularly on north facing slopes,” Bender said. “Find a place that isn’t real steep.”
Bender made his comments after several small avalanches were detected around Durango, including one within city limits that forced the closure of a road.
The snow fell on top of several feet that had already fallen in the area from previous storms. A storm earlier this month left thousands without electricity. About 500 customers were left without power Monday, with most having their power restored by the afternoon, said La Plata Electric Association spokeswoman Indiana Reed.
Jerry Smith, a forecaster with the National Weather Service office in Grand Junction, said the storm was one in a series of three fronts expected to hit the area this week. Another foot of snow was expected to fall before the weather clears on Thursday, Smith said.
Several mountain passes in southwest Colorado, including Molas and Red Mountain passes on U.S. 550, were closed because of the avalanche danger.
Jerry Roberts, lead avalanche forecaster at the Colorado Avalanche Information Center, said avalanche warnings have been issued for the San Juan Mountains, partly because of the buildup of wind-blown snow.
“Even roofs of houses can be places where the snow piles up and there can be avalanches,” Roberts said.
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