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Storm changes travel plans

SHAUN STANLEY/Durango Herald

It’s better to be prepared for rain, sleet, snow and cold because it’s spring in Durango. The range of weather is seen by the dress and accessories of parents and students leaving Riverview Elementary School on Monday afternoon during regularly scheduled early-release day.

By Vanessa Guthrie Herald staff writer

Whether you were in your car or catching a flight at the Durango-La Plata County Airport, your travel was affected by the spring storm moving through Colorado.

On-and-off snow and rain showers halted rock work Monday on Red Mountain Pass, allowing traffic to reopen on U.S. Highway 550 during normally scheduled closures. The pass is usually closed from 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. and 1:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. Monday through Saturday to clear a rockfall zone. Because the weather made working conditions too dangerous, the rockfall zone was cleared for traffic, according to a news release issued Monday by the Colorado Department of Transportation.

“We want to be clear that the pass has not been re-opened,” Nancy Shanks, spokeswoman with CDOT, said. “The project is still underway.”

The crew decided to cease work and err on the side of safety, she said.

At Durango’s airport, several flights scheduled to arrive from Denver were canceled and delayed because of the storm’s strength on the Front Range.

“Denver was just impacted pretty hard by the snowstorm (Sunday), and it resulted in several delays and cancellations all across their system, not just Durango,” Kip Turner, manager for Durango-La Plata County Airport, said Monday.

United Airlines flights from Denver to Durango were among those canceled Sunday.

Dan Fischer, a United pilot, said several commuter jets canceled their flights as a safety precaution. The heavy snowfall created a hazard for the smaller airplanes.

However, many of Fischer’s colleagues who fly for Frontier Airlines were able to travel from Denver to other destinations Sunday. The jets they use are larger and are more capable to fly in harsh weather. They also have better visibility than a smaller plane, he said.

As of Monday afternoon, most United flights were delayed but still scheduled, according to United’s website. Also, a Monday afternoon American Airlines flight scheduled to leave Dallas for Durango also was delayed.

Since Sunday morning, Red Mountain Pass has received about 18 inches of snow.

CDOT reported the pass was snowpacked in spots.

“It is possible that we could have another day of no work on the rockfall as the snow continues to fall. However, weather conditions can change,” Shanks said Monday.

Snowfall is expected to gradually diminish today, said Ellen Heffernan, with the National Weather Service in Grand Junction. Today’s high in Durango is expected to reach 52 with a low of 22.

“There is an isolated chance of a shower or two through Tuesday evening,” Heffernan said.

Wednesday brings drier and warmer conditions that will remain throughout the rest of the week, she said. Wednesday’s high in Durango was forecast to hit 61, and the low is expected to be 29. Thursday’s forecasted high is 68, with highs reaching into the mid- to upper-70s Friday and Saturday.

In northern and central Colorado, the powerful spring storm brought up to 3 feet of snow to the Rocky Mountains, and it spawned thunderstorms and tornadoes in the Midwest.

Residents in eastern Nebraska were cleaning up from Sunday’s thunderstorms and twisters, which ripped roofs off homes and toppled buildings but caused no major injuries. Numerous tornadoes were reported across at least six Nebraska counties.

Along the Front Range, the snow that began falling Mother’s Day caused some power outages as it weighed down newly greening trees.

Among those affected by the outages was Denver International Airport, where some escalators and elevators temporarily stalled Monday morning. Airport spokeswoman Julie Smith said a backup generator spared the airport any major problems. At least 27 arriving and departing flights were canceled by the weather. Crews were working overnight to de-ice runways.

Spring is normally the wettest time of year in the Rockies. While snowfall is common in the mountains in May, significant snowfall at lower elevations like Denver in May occurs only every five or 10 years, Colorado State climatologist Nolan Doesken said. Denver received between 4 and 7 inches of heavy, wet snow.

vguthrie@durangoherald.com. The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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