Wild weather pummels valley
July 19, 2011
Slow-moving thunderstorms pummeled the Roaring Fork Valley Monday with a ferocity that longtime residents said they haven’t seen before.
Mudslides temporarily closed County Road 100 near Catherine Bridge and in Missouri Heights. A gully-washer dumped mud and rocks over a 100-yard-long stretch of the Rio Grande Trail and threatened to eat into the paved path. Violent lightning ignited wildfires near Meredith, and between Snowmass Village and Buttermilk, although the flames apparently didn’t spread far. Rain swamped roads and gave motorists pause from driving through massive puddles and streams. The runoff turned the Roaring Fork and Fryingpan rivers into liquid mud.
“Since living here in the late ’70s, I’ve never seen this [severe] of weather before,” said Pitkin County Sheriff’s Deputy Ann Stephenson.
An automated weather station on the Crown, the mountain that separates the El Jebel area from the foot of Mount Sopris, indicated that 2.09 inches of rain fell between 4:49 and 5:49 p.m., said Travis Booth, an intern with the National Weather Service office in Grand Junction. That estimate was probably pretty accurate, he said. The Aspen-Pitkin County Airport picked up 1.02 inches of rain in a 30-minute period, and a total of 1.13 inches, Booth said.
Between 2 and 3 inches fell in some locations in the mountains north and northwest of Aspen, the weather service reported.
Booth said thunderstorms kept re-forming in the Roaring Fork Valley area as a slow-moving system lumbered through. There was a flash flood warning in effect for the entire Roaring Fork Valley from about 6 p.m. to 9 p.m.
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Water flowed across Highway 82 from the airport and swamped low-lying areas of the Aspen Airport Business Center, including the garden level of the Aspen Skiing Co.’s offices, Stephenson said.
Numerous flashes of lightning and bangs of thunder peppered the valley. There was a report of a wildland fire in the Meredith area, in the upper Fryingpan River valley, after a lightning strike around 7 p.m. The Basalt Fire Department responded, but Stephenson said her latest report about 9:15 p.m. indicated no threat from a fire. She said a wildland fire also was reported after a lightning strike between Snowmass Village and Buttermilk, but it apparently didn’t pose any danger.
A lightning strike at a residence in Starwood “blew out” the bottom of a tree and knocked out the security system of a nearby home.
“A lot of electrical stuff, for sure,” Stephenson said.
There were no road closures in Pitkin County as of 9:15 p.m., although high water and debris slowed traffic on several routes.
“I think we dodged a bullet,” Stephenson said.
Catherine Road was closed while commuters were trying to return to Carbondale during rush hour, but it reopened by 7:30 p.m. A mud- and rock slide made the Rio Grande Trail impassable about 1 mile west, or downvalley, of Rock Bottom Ranch at 7 p.m. There were about 3 inches of mud on a 100-yard stretch of the trail. Rocks were rolling down the new stream, which intersected the paved trail on its way to the Roaring Fork River. It was impossible to tell at the time if the flooding eroded the trail.