A quick winter blast turned a parched landscape white and made for slick driving Thursday morning across much of Southwest Colorado.
The storm rolled into the region early in the morning and blew out by mid-afternoon, making way for cold temperatures Thursday night, Friday and Saturday.
It was the first significant storm of the season, and it happened to arrive on the first official day of winter – also known as the winter solstice.
Snow totals were still coming in Thursday night at the National Weather Service, but preliminary measurements reported 7 to 8 inches on El Diente Peak, 6 to 8 inches on Cascade Peak and 5 to 6 inches on Spud Mountain, said Dennis Phillips, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Grand Junction.
He also reported 1 inch had fallen just south of Durango, 1½ inches in Bayfield and 2 to 3 inches in Vallecito.
The snow wreaked havoc on many roads, including on U.S. Highway 160 between Durango and Bayfield, where traffic was at a standstill for more than 20 minutes during the morning commute.
Multiple vehicles slid off the road near mile markers 97 and 98 on Highway 160, about 4 or 5 miles west of Bayfield and just east of Lon’s Automotive, said Capt. Adrian Driscoll of the Colorado State Patrol.
Emergency workers responded to several other crashes throughout the region Thursday morning, including rollover crashes, according to scanner traffic.
A two-car crash involved a State Patrol vehicle near mile marker 97 on Highway 160, Driscoll said. No one was injured, he said.
The Durango Police Department issued an accident alert, meaning drivers involved in minor, non-injury accidents should exchange information and report the crash the next business day.
“We will still respond to accidents involving injury, suspected drug/alcohol use and vehicles creating roadway blockage or a hazardous situation,” the department said on its Facebook page.
Driscoll reminded drivers to slow down, have adequate tires and defrost windows before driving.
“It’s going to take you a few extra minutes to get where you need to go, but it will be much safer that way,” Driscoll said.
Traction and chain laws were in effect through Thursday afternoon for area passes, including Coal Bank, Molas, Red Mountain and Wolf Creek. The restrictions were renewed Thursday night for Red Mountain Pass, where cold temperatures turned wet roads to ice. The Colorado Department of Transportation reported blowing snow on Colorado Highway 145 between Rico and Telluride, which includes Lizard Head Pass.
Cold temperatures were expected to arrive Thursday night, with a low of 8 to 10 degrees and highs in the mid-30s Friday, said Mike Charnick, meteorologist with the Weather Service in Grand Junction.
“It’s going to be the next big story here,” Charnick said of the cold weather.