Here comes winter |

Here comes winter

It can be a rough transition from flip-flops to snow boots.

Wet, heavy snow blanketed Aspen on Wednesday morning, making sidewalks slushy and pant cuffs soggy even though the first day of autumn is two weeks away. But gripes and chilly walks to work aside, the real casualties of the sudden snowstorm were trees.

“For a while there it was like a war zone. In some places in the West End, it sounded like gunfire – branches were snapping like crazy,” said Stephen Ellsperman, deputy director of the parks and recreation department.

The heavy snow landed on trees that have yet to drop their leaves for the winter, causing branches to sag, crack and break.

As soon as the snow started to fly, 35 parks department employees canvassed the town, shaking trees in hopes of saving branches from the weight of the snow. Many trees were saved, some were severely damaged, and some were knocked over and lost altogether.

By the time the snow had stopped falling, Mike O’Meara at the Aspen Water Department said he had measured 2.4 inches of snow in town. According to the Aspen Skiing Co., 6 inches of snow was measured atop all the local ski mountains by noon yesterday.

Aspen is already well ahead of the game when it comes to average rainfall this month. O’Meara said the average for September is 1.77 inches – and in just the first 11 days of this month the town has already received 1.9 inches.

Last year, snow flew on the night of Sept. 17, leaving the top of Snowmass Mountain’s Big Burn with 9 inches of powder. The Skico sent out a cheerful press release Wednesday, predicting snow through last night and possibly over the weekend.

The wet weather caused two power outages yesterday morning. One affected about 1,775 customers on the north and east sides of Aspen up Independence Pass. A malfunctioning underground cable was blamed.

The other outage left 40 customers in the Red Mountain area without power when a heavy tree branch touched a power line.

Things were back up and running within an hour in each instance, said Holy Cross Energy spokesman Bob Gardner. He said the larger outage may not have been caused directly by the snowstorm. Workers were able to reroute electricity and then began repairing the glitch.

As for the plethora of broken and sagging tree limbs around town, Ellsperman said the parks department encourages residents to do a quick evaluation of their own trees for damage, and to be wary of the hazards of hanging and cracked limbs. Most of the native trees around town weather sudden storms like this well, including narrow-leaf cottonwoods, conifers and aspen trees, he said.

But trees that were introduced to this area – soft-wooded trees like maples and elms – have larger leaf surfaces and won’t do as well with the weight of the snow. These sorts of trees should be trimmed regularly, so that weaker branches won’t be affected by sudden storms, Ellsperman said.

The parks department will continue to evaluate the trees and damage in town for the rest of the week.

“Our biggest concern is the hazard of anything in the canopy that could come down unexpectedly,” Ellsperman said.

Anyone who would like help evaluating their trees for damage can call the parks department at 920-5120.

[Naomi Havlen’s e-mail address is]

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