Valley was the ‘bull’s eye’ for late April snowstorm
ASPEN – April showers bring … downed power lines, numerous fender benders and joy to the hearts of backcountry skiers and river runners.
Spring got put on hold Thursday when up to 18 inches of wet, sloppy snow blanketed parts of the Roaring Fork Valley.
The fast-moving storm packed a one-two punch, first hitting western Colorado with heavy winds on Wednesday, then following up with snow that fell so heavily at times it created whiteout conditions early Thursday.
One commuter traveling the midvalley at 5 a.m. reported the snow made it difficult to see along Highway 82 until he reached Carbondale.
Snowfall estimates by midvalley homeowners ranged from 13 inches in Missouri Heights to 14 inches in El Jebel and 18 inches in Basalt. Basalt schools stayed on schedule, to the chagrin of many students.
Only 3 or 4 inches was reported in Glenwood Springs and Carbondale, and it didn’t stick to roads farther downvalley.
The Aspen Water Plant, the official weather station for Aspen, recorded 8.5 inches as of 8 a.m. Thursday.
Snow was spotty in the Aspen area. Little Annie Road homeowner Glenn Horn said 3 or 4 inches fell at his house, but he encountered deeper pockets as he drove to work in Aspen.
“It looks like we finally got the weather pattern we were hoping for in December,” Horn said.
About 12 to 14 inches of snow fell overnight at the top of Aspen Mountain, according to Aspen Skiing Co. Vice President of Mountain Operations Rich Burkley, but the wind created pockets twice that deep.
“If you’re skinning up, the Back of Bell is the call,” he said. Burkley was “breaking trail” in 15 inches or more to get to his office Thursday morning at the Snowmass Village Mall at 8,600 feet in elevation.
Snowfall was widespread in western Colorado Thursday morning, but preliminary reports showed small amounts fell in most places, said Jim Daniels, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Grand Junction.
“Pitkin County and Eagle County seem to be the bull’s eye for the bigger snowfall amounts,” he said.
The high winds downed limbs and even trees on Wednesday.
“Road and bridge was pretty busy with their chainsaws,” sheriff’s Deputy Jeff Lumsden said Thursday.
Downed limbs from cottonwoods littered Redstone Boulevard, said Pitkin County Public Works Director Brian Pettet. A fir tree fell overnight on Little Annie Road, and the upper Fryingpan Valley also had limbs on the roadway, he said.
High winds also reignited sparks Wednesday from a controlled burn that landowners thought they had extinguished a few days earlier along Prince Creek Road, south of Carbondale. Firefighters got the blaze under control Wednesday morning before it spread beyond about an acre, authorities said.
The heavy snow contributed to some fender benders on Highway 82 Thursday morning, and snow-encrusted tree limbs drooped onto power lines and caused at least one localized outage.
The Basalt fire department responded to a multivehicle accident on Highway 82 at Holland Hills around 7:30 a.m. No one was injured, according to Fire Chief Scott Thompson. At about 8:15 a.m. a snow-encrusted limb fell and snapped a power line at the Roaring Fork Mobile Home Park.
Thompson said traffic signals were caked with wet snow Thursday morning, creating uncertainty about what color the stoplights were. “You couldn’t even see the lower Two Rivers Road lights,” he said.
Pitkin County sheriff’s deputies responded to a handful of fender benders, but nothing drastic, Lumsden said.
The Colorado State Patrol’s Glenwood Springs office said 34 crashes were reported along the Interstate 70 corridor in Eagle County Thursday morning. CSP investigated 12 of the accidents, two of which involved injuries. The other 22 were investigated by other police departments or the vehicles were cleared before authorities arrived.
Pettet said the snow fell so heavily between about 4 a.m. and prime commuting time that the roads were covered soon after a plow cleared them. Travel was also treacherous because many commuters have already taken off their snow tires, he said.
April shaped up to be wetter than usual. The Aspen Water Plant’s unofficial running total for snowfall for the month as of Thursday morning was 33.5 inches. That tops the April totals for 2008 and 2009, at the end of above-average snowfall winters. There were 27 inches of snow in April 2009 and 23.6 inches in April 2008, according to the water plant’s records. The snowiest April in Aspen was in 1970, with 36 inches. The average snowfall for the month since 1934 is 15.5 inches.
More snow is on the way. The National Weather Service forecast calls for 3 to 5 inches of snow today and snow showers through Monday. The sun is supposed to reappear Tuesday.
“Now we’ll have rockfall after this snow melts,” Lumsden said.
The cold and wet weather was welcomed by Aspen Whitewater Rafting owner and operator Jim Ingram, particularly after warm temperatures ate into the snowpack earlier in the month.
“I can’t say I don’t lose sleep over the snowpack,” said Ingram, who is also a member of the ski patrol at Snowmass.
The cooler temperatures and additional snowfall at this time of year typically maintain flows suitable for rafting for a longer period on the Roaring Fork River, Ingram said. The local rafting season generally begins in mid-May.
“If we can get to July Fourth on Slaughterhouse we’re pretty psyched,” he said, referring to the popular stretch just downstream from Aspen.
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