Storms pound the West, more coming
The Associated Press
Aspen, CO Colorado
BOISE, Idaho ” Avalanche centers in the West issued warnings Tuesday as new storms lined up following a system that buried many areas in heavy snow, closing government offices, causing havoc on roads and even shutting down one ski resort.
A search was under way Tuesday for three snowmobilers missing in the Colorado mountains. Blowing snow and avalanche danger caused new highway closings in Wyoming and Washington, where some schools were closed for a second consecutive day.
The stormy weather also dragged bitterly cold air across the northern Plains, with the National Weather Service reporting a midday temperature of 24 below zero at Glasgow, Mont. North Dakota registered wind chills of 54 below zero early Tuesday at Garrison, with an actual low of 24 below at Williston.
“Now’s when you need to have your winter survival kit,” North Dakota Highway Patrol Sgt. Aaron Hummel said.
The weather service posted heavy snow warnings for parts of Washington, Oregon and Idaho, with a blizzard warning for the Snowy Range area in southern Wyoming.
Heavy snow on Monday pummeled mountain areas from Washington state to northern Arizona as two storms converged, one from hard-hit California and another from the Gulf of Alaska, meteorologists said.
“It’s very unusual,” said Doug Abromeit, director of the U.S. Forest Service’s National Avalanche Center in the central Idaho town of Ketchum. “Typically the storm is not this widespread.”
Those storms were being followed Tuesday by a third storm, from the Gulf of Alaska, that threatened up to 20 inches of snow in Idaho’s mountains during the night and into Wednesday, said Jay Breidenbach at the National Weather Service office in Boise.
A fourth storm was on the way. “By Thursday, the next storm will be right on our doorstep. This is quite a storm system,” Breidenbach said.
The cold air and wind gusting as high as 45 mph also were heading into the Midwest, where fog already created problems for air travel Tuesday at Chicago. About 150 flights had been canceled by early afternoon at O’Hare Airport, said Chicago Department of Aviation spokesman Gregg Cunningham.
About 20 inches of snow fell Monday around Coeur d’Alene and closed schools ” the first time since November 1996 that a winter storm forced the cancellation of classes, officials said.
“They got clobbered,” John Livingston, a weather service meteorologist, said of residents of that northern Idaho city.
The roofs of several businesses collapsed under the weight of snow Monday in northern Idaho, while avalanches forced the evacuations of dozens of homes. There were no injuries.
On Tuesday, Interstate 90 at Snoqualmie Pass, Washington state’s main east-west artery, was closed because of high avalanche danger. Several highways also were closed in the Colorado mountains, and sections of Interstate 80 were closed in Wyoming because of snow and wind-driven ground blizzards.
Three snowmobilers have been missing since Sunday in the mountains of Colorado’s Summit County, west of Denver, said sheriff’s spokeswoman Paulette Horr. She said relatives didn’t notify authorities until Monday evening, and searchers couldn’t start looking sooner than Tuesday because of bad weather and avalanche danger.
About 3 feet of snow had fallen in the area since the hikers went missing, the weather service said.
The storm brought an early halt to skiing Monday at Utah’s Snowbird resort. Skiers were stuck at the resort because Little Cottonwood Canyon was closed to traffic for avalanche control, spokeswoman Laura Schaffer. The resort reopened Tuesday, she said.
The threat of flooding as heavy snow melted brought an emergency declaration on the Navajo reservation ” sprawling across parts of Arizona, Utah and New Mexico.
“Protecting life, limb and property is always our first priority,” said Navajo President Joe Shirley Jr. “Real dangers exists in our remote areas miles from paved roads.”
At lower elevations of Arizona, heavy rain flooded some creeks and rivers. Some residents of the town of Carrizo fled for a time because of fear that two dams might fail. The evacuations were canceled after water levels lowered and an inspection found no apparent damage to the dams.
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There is a lot of pent up energy among hikers and bikers to get into the high country, but snow fields, avalanche debris and high stream crossings are presenting challenges later than usual. Forest rangers with the Aspen-Sopris District provide trail condition reports that are updated each week so hikers and backpackers aren’t caught unaware.