Perhaps our meek winter has some punches to throw after all.
Because of an abnormally dry winter – driven by colder temperatures in the Pacific Ocean, known as a weather cycle called “La Niña” – Southwest Colorado’s snowpack has hovered around 20 to 30 percent of 30-year historic averages.
However, recent storms in the past few weeks have increased the snowpack for the Animas, Dolores, San Juan and San Miguel basins to 53 percent of normal, according to the National Water and Climate Center.
Megan Stackhouse, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Grand Junction, said the La Niña pattern hasn’t completely broken down, but it has shifted its ridgeline far enough west to allow storms to enter the region.
This week, for instance, hasn’t seen the last of winter weather.
A snowstorm system is expected to enter the San Juan Mountains on Wednesday and last through Thursday night. During that time, another foot could fall at higher elevations.
In Durango, precipitation will likely remain as rain with a chance for snow, similar to the last series of storms. If temperatures drop, Stackhouse said lower elevations could see up to an inch of new snow.
While the region isn’t completely out of La Niña’s grip, Stackhouse said long-term climate prediction models indicate more neutral conditions in coming weeks, and that could result in a wet spring.
An avalanche warning remains in effect for the south San Juan Mountains until Wednesday morning, according to the Colorado Avalanche Information Center. During that time, travel in avalanche terrain is not recommend.
“Heavy snowfall and powerful winds over the last 48 hours overloaded a fragile snowpack,” the warning says. “Human-triggered avalanches are very likely. Natural avalanches could break well above you and run to the valley floor.”
Preliminary snow totals Tuesday indicated Wolf Creek Ski area received 19 inches from the storm; Purgatory Resort reported 11 inches; and Telluride Ski resort reported 11 inches. Hesperus ski area received 6 inches in the last 24 hours.
All mountain passes north of Durango on U.S. Highway 550 reopened Tuesday afternoon.
Coal Bank, Molas and Red Mountain passes were closed around 5:15 p.m. Monday after a winter storm passed through the high country of the San Juan Mountains.
The roads were closed Tuesday morning as crews completed avalanche mitigation. Coal Bank and Molas opened around 11 a.m. Tuesday. Red Mountain Pass opened around 1 p.m.
Colorado State Patrol Capt. Adrian Driscoll said Tuesday the department responded to a number of reports of cars sliding off roads Monday night into Tuesday morning.
The call volume was so high, Driscoll said, that the State Patrol was forced to go on an “accident alert” protocol, which means officers were able to respond to incidents only if they involved injuries.
“We had a lot of action,” he said. “Nothing serious, but there were a lot of things going on.”