A wet winter storm is expected to dump up to 8 inches of snow in Durango and up to 30 inches in the San Juan Mountains through Thursday.
The Pineapple Express, as it’s called, originated near the Hawaiian Islands and arrived Wednesday afternoon in Western Colorado, with a little guidance from the jet stream and an arctic cold blast, said Chris Cuoco, forecaster with the National Weather Service in Grand Junction.
“It happens once or twice a year,” he said. “It is one of the situations that always produces a great deal of snow for all the mountains of Colorado. No one’s really going to miss out on this. The mountains in Utah, the same thing – they’re going to get a boatload of snow.”
The most powerful part of the jet stream has been positioned over central Colorado for a couple of weeks, funneling clouds and snow flurries to Southwest Colorado, Cuoco said. “In this case, we’re in the storm path, right in the middle of the storm path,” he said. “What we’re going to get is a pretty good storm.”
A winter storm warning is in place until 5 a.m. Friday for Durango and surrounding areas above 6,500 feet in elevation. A winter storm advisory is in effect for areas below 6,500 feet in elevation. A storm warning means more than 6 inches of snow; a storm advisory means 3 inches or more of snow.
“Durango has such varying terrain; we will most likely get that range,” Cuoco said. “There will be some places up at the north end of town that will get the 8 inches, and there will be some places down south of town, near the airport, for example, that will only get the 4 (inches).”
The heaviest snowfall was expected to start about 8 p.m. Wednesday and continue overnight. Forecasters are calling for light to moderate snow Thursday, with the storm clearing out Friday morning, making way for cooler temperatures. Temperatures are expected to reach the mid-30s Thursday, dip to 15-25 degrees Thursday night and plummet to 5-15 degrees Friday night.
Mountain passes north of Durango, including Coal Bank, Molas and Red Mountain, were expected to receive at least 15 inches of snow on U.S. Highway 550. Chain laws were in effect for the passes, as well as Lizard Head and Wolf Creek.
Wolf Creek will be closed 6:30-8 a.m. Thursday, and intermittent delays should be expected Thursday morning on the Highway 550 passes for avalanche control.
“It’s going to be a mess, and, most likely, rarely drivable,” Cuoco said. “We’re expecting significant impacts traveling north of Durango, and trying to drive across Red Mountain Pass may not be possible for the duration of this storm.
“It’s going to be a significant storm with heavy snow and blowing snow,” he said.
The snow and strong winds raised the risk of avalanches and made travel difficult in the high country. The wind shut down ski lifts in Steamboat Springs, denying people a chance to take advantage of the fresh powder.
Denver-based Frontier Airlines canceled about two dozen flights ahead of the storm.
The Associated Press contributed to this report. firstname.lastname@example.org