Mountain passes north of Durango were closed Monday evening as a winter storm is expected to intensify into the night across the high country of Southwest Colorado.
About 5:15 p.m., Colorado Department of Transportation closed Red Mountain, Coal Bank and Molas passes on U.S. Highway 550 from mile markers 49 to 92, from Coal Bank to Ouray, because of hazardous conditions.
As of 8 a.m. Tuesday, CDOT still listed Highway 550 as closed with no estimated time of reopening.
On Wolf Creek Pass on U.S. Highway 160 east, a chain law is in effect that requires chains or alternative-traction devices for all commercial vehicles, including buses. No oversize loads are allowed to cross the pass between Pagosa Springs and South Fork.
Colorado State Patrol Capt. Adrian Driscoll said around 5:30 p.m. Monday that several vehicles have gone off the road.
“We’ve had a few slide-offs but nothing serious,” he said.
The National Weather Service in Grand Junction says a winter storm warning that went into effect at 5 p.m. Sunday is expected to last until 8 a.m. Tuesday. In the high country, up to 2 feet of snow is possible.
The weather service says widespread blowing snow is expected until 3 a.m., with patchy blowing snow after 4 a.m.
Towns listed in the winter storm warning include Hesperus, Lake City, Ouray, Rico, Silverton and Telluride.
Travelers are advised to be extra cautious as heavy snow and wind gusts could reach as high as 50 mph, causing blowing and drifting snow, and they could create difficult driving conditions.
“If you must travel, keep an extra flashlight, food and water in your vehicle in case of an emergency. The latest road conditions for the state you are calling from can be obtained by calling 5-1-1,” according to the weather service.
The weather service did not have up-to-date snowfall totals as of 5:30 p.m. Monday.
With the storm settled in, the Colorado Avalanche Information Center issued an avalanche watch with a “high” rating for avalanche danger. “We may see a decrease in the danger on Tuesday, but for the time being it is a good idea to plan to avoid all avalanche terrain until the snowpack has had time to adjust,” a CAIC report stated Monday afternoon.
In Durango, rain in the morning turned to snow by late afternoon, but roads were mostly wet.
The wet snow is sporadically impacting electrical service throughout La Plata Election Association’s service territory, LPEA spokeswoman Indiana Reed said Monday night. LPEA crews are on call throughout Monday night to respond to all outages, she said. To report an outage, call LPEA’s Dispatch Center at 247-5786.
Overnight, the weather service expects temperatures to drop to about 15 degrees. In Durango, less than 1 inch of new snow is possible.
The storm is expected to move out of the region by Tuesday afternoon. But the weather service expects snow to return Wednesday night through Thursday, with a 60 percent chance of snow Wednesday night and a 50 percent chance Thursday in Durango.
Snow is expected to end Thursday night with a slight chance of snow in the forecast for Durango on Friday.