A slow-moving winter storm drenched Durango and blanketed higher elevations with snow Thursday, closing five mountain passes for most of the day in Southwest Colorado.
Two of the passes, Red Mountain and Wolf Creek, remained closed overnight Thursday, and two more, Coal Bank and Molas, will close about 7 a.m. Friday for more avalanche-control work, said Lisa Schwantes, spokeswoman for the Colorado Department of Transportation.
“It was nasty up there today,” she said. “The wind was blowing around.”
The Pacific storm, dubbed a Pineapple Express for its origin near the Hawaiian Islands, produced 10 to 20 inches of snow in the San Juan Mountains and was expected to cough up another foot of snow Thursday night, said Megan Stakehouse, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Grand Junction.
Weather forecasters weren’t giving up on snow in Durango, saying the cold front should arrive Thursday night. They’re calling for 2-4 inches in Durango, with the heaviest snowfall occurring between 6 p.m. and midnight.
“It (the cold front) has been pretty slow, but it is going into the San Juans right now. So you should start seeing a changeover,” Stakehouse said at 3:40 p.m. Thursday.
A winter storm warning expires at 5 a.m. Friday for areas above 6,500 feet in elevation, including Durango.
The snowline was about 7,000 feet in elevation Thursday, meaning Durango, at 6,512 feet, was just below the freezing point.
Chapman Hill, the in-town ski area, received mostly spitting rain Thursday. While snow would have been preferable, the rain wasn’t enough to melt through the 12- to 18-inch base, said Matt Morrissey, recreation supervisor at Chapman Hill.
“It’s disappointing for sure because it was in really good shape,” he said. “We’ll till this stuff up, spin it around, put it through the tiller and remake it after we get normal weather again.”
United Express flights between Denver and Durango were delayed all day Thursday as a result of winter conditions in Denver, said Tony Vicari, interim director of Durango-La Plata County Airport, where conditions were mostly wet. American Eagle made a strategic decision to cancel an in-bound flight from Dallas to Durango in anticipation of bad weather in Durango, he said.
“Unfortunately, the airport conditions were just fine,” he said. “There was no reason that needed to be done.”
CDOT crews triggered three avalanches on Wolf Creek Pass but stopped work Thursday afternoon because conditions grew too dangerous, Schwantes said. As they were leaving, a natural avalanche made its way to the road, carrying debris and burying a 200-foot stretch of road with 6 to 12 feet of snow.
“The conditions were a little too risky for even our crews to continue to work on the pass. So it was determined we needed to get out of there,” she said. “I’m sure we had some disappointed skiers, but I hope they realize we have their safety in mind, and we are grateful that no one was on the pass when that natural avalanche occurred.”
The snow should taper off early Friday, making way for clear skies and colder temperatures.