Icy conditions were expected to persist for a second day Tuesday morning around Durango, while heavy snow loads in the high country will contribute to avalanche danger.
A backcountry skier triggered an avalanche that covered a 200-foot section of road with 8 feet of snow on U.S. Highway 550 in the Lime Creek area, between Coal Bank and Molas passes, said Lisa Schwantes, spokeswoman for the Colorado Department of Transportation. The avalanche was reported about 1:50 p.m., and the highway was officially closed about 2:25 p.m.
“A skier was caught in the slide but was able to get free,” Schwantes said. “No injuries were reported, and no vehicles were involved in the slide.”
A 45-mile corridor between Coal Bank Pass and Ouray was closed Monday night, and it will remain closed Tuesday morning for avalanche-control work, Schwantes said.
“We are getting heavy, significant snowfall,” she said.
Freezing rain made for a slick morning commute Monday in and around Durango, causing several traffic crashes and dozens of cars to slide off roads.
Pedestrians had an equally difficult time navigating city sidewalks iced over from the sleet-like rain and cold morning temperatures. Kroegers Ace Hardware in Durango said customers were streaming in to buy bags of Ice Melt.
According to scanner traffic, someone was seen ice skating on a county road, but efforts to confirm the report were unsuccessful.
The snowline was about 7,500 feet in elevation Monday; by comparison, Durango is at 6,512 feet.
La Plata County Road and Bridge crews began sanding at 3 a.m., but they were unable to keep up with deteriorating conditions, said Megan Graham, spokeswoman for the county.
“The short answer is all county roads are in bad shape,” she said about 9 a.m. “Everything paved is black ice.” She said gravel roads were “blue ice.”
“The conditions are beyond what we’re able to respond to with the resources that we have,” Graham said. “They’re trying to get ahead of it.”
The county’s entire road system, all 653 miles of it, has suffered “significant degradation” as a result of a series of moisture-laden storms that began prior to Christmas Day and have persisted into January, the county said in a news release Monday.
Plow and grading crews have been working morning and evening to address the snow and ice, but gravel and asphalt roads are developing potholes and washboard surfaces, the release says.
“Overall, conditions are well below any satisfactory level we try to provide,” said Doyle Villers, road maintenance supervisor for the county. “As soon as we get a break in the weather, crews will immediately begin grading gravel roads and repair potholes on asphalt.”
The county plans to take a “worst-first” approach to making repairs.
“We know your roads are rough, and we are doing everything we can to schedule repairing them, but Mother Nature isn’t cooperating,” Villers said.
U.S. Highway 160 west of Durango, from city limits to Hesperus, was closed from about 7:55 to 8:25 a.m. Monday for several crashes and icy road conditions.
“This particular storm was quite unusual,” Schwantes said. “It’s not the norm for us to be receiving the ice storm advisory that we received and the freezing rain that we received early this morning. As fast as we could get the sand on the road, the rain was washing it away or was freezing right on top of the sand.”
Surface temperatures stayed above freezing at the Durango-La Plata County Airport, but United Airline flights from Denver were delayed as a result of issues in Denver, said Tony Vicari, interim director of the Durango airport. Deicing of planes also caused minor delays, he said.
Chain laws were in effect for commercial vehicles on Wolf Creek Pass.
A mix of rain and snow is expected to continue through Monday night in Durango, said Megan Stakehouse, meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Grand Junction.
“It’s still pretty balmy down there,” she said. “... A lot of the moisture is being pulled in from the south, so that keeps it more mild than if it was dropping down straight into the Great Basin from the Pacific Northwest.”
Forecasters predict a break in the moisture Tuesday, another surge of moisture Wednesday, another break on Thursday and more precipitation Friday.
“It’s still looking unsettled,” Stakehouse said. “But it is looking like the weekend should be clearing out, so that will be a nice break for everyone.”