Winter storm warning issued for Aspen area starting late Sunday into Christmas | AspenTimes.com

Winter storm warning issued for Aspen area starting late Sunday into Christmas

Staff reports

The National Weather Service early Sunday morning upgraded a storm expected to start Sunday evening around Aspen to a winter storm warning, and holiday travelers should expect difficult conditions through Monday evening along Interstate 70 and other northern and central mountains.

As a winter storm amped up Saturday in the Colorado mountains shutting down Interstate 70, the National Weather Service office in Grand Junction issued another winter storm watch starting Sunday night into Monday afternoon, including the Aspen area.

However, that prediction was changed to a winter storm warning at about 4:30 a.m. Sunday and now up to 16 inches of snow is expected by Monday night, according to the weather service. The warning starts at 9 p.m. Sunday, and the heaviest snowfall is predicted to fall Christmas morning.

The NWS said in its Sunday morning update that “snowfall will increase this evening and continue through about sunset Christmas Day. Snowfall will be heavy at times with 8 to 16 inches of total accumulation expected. Northwest winds of 20 to 35 mph will cause areas of blowing and drifting snow, decreasing the visibility to around a half-mile at times.”

Before the storm comes in, the Aspen resorts were filled Sunday morning with skiers and riders enjoying a bluebird-start to the day after the stormed rolled out late Saturday night.

The Aspen-Pitkin County Airport had three cancellations Saturday evening as visitors tried to make their way into town for the holidays. Seven other flights trying to get in Saturday night were diverted to Grand Junction because of high winds.

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Check for updates before heading to the airport again Sunday as three other flights were canceled. The airport was expecting a record number of flights Saturday to accommodate the holiday travelers.

The NWS office in Grand Junction reported an 81-mph wind gust in Aspen on Saturday night and whiteout conditions for a brief time. The winds tapered off by midnight but are expected to return Sunday night into Monday.

Sections of I-70 between Vail Pass (mile marker 176) and Denver were closed on and off all afternoon Saturday and into the evening because of high winds and heavy snow. The interstate reopened early Sunday morning, but with numerous restrictions in place. By 10:30 a.m. most restrictions were lifted, according to CDOT.

Shelters were set up Saturday night on I-70 as harsh conditions created closures along an 80-mile stretch in the mountains. The Eisenhower/Johnson tunnels were without power for a few hours.

CDOT updates: Follow I-70 updates on CDOT’s Twitter account

After a break during the day Sunday, winter weather conditions will return to the Aspen area Christmas eve and last into Monday, according to the NWS, which changed the prediction to a winter storm warning starting at 9 p.m. Sunday until 3 p.m. Monday.

Areas included in the winter storm warning include  the Gore and Elk mountains, central mountain valleys and West Elk and Sawatch mountains including Aspen, Vail and Crested Butte, according to the weather service.

“Be prepared for significant reductions in visibility at times. Winds gusting as high as 35 mph will cause areas of blowing and drifting snow,” the NWS said in the winter storm warning. “All roadways will become icy and snow packed. Vail Pass in particular will experience difficult and dangerous driving conditions at times.”

Saturday’s storm hit hardest in Summit County, the Mosquito Mountain Range, the Indian Peaks, Berthoud Pass, Winter Park, Breckenridge, east slopes of Mosquito Mountain Range, east slopes Southern Gore Range, Eisenhower/Johnson tunnels, Kenosha Mountains, Mount Evans and Williams Forks Mountains.

"Motorists should also be advised of potential avalanche mitigation on Loveland Pass and Berthoud Pass Sunday morning," a CDOT release advised. "The avalanche control work will cause travel delays while operations are taking place and plows then clear the roads."

“We strongly urge motorists to take it slow when traveling to your destination," said Kyle Lester, CDOT Director of Highway Maintenance.