A little shock and awe accompanied Durango’s first snowstorm of the year.
With little premonition of inclement weather in the forecast, a cold front dropped into Southwest Colorado early Monday, leaving up to an inch of snow in Durango – the first measurable snow of the year in town.
The surprise snowstorm that came and went early Monday made for a slick morning commute for many Durango-area drivers, especially on North College Drive where multiple vehicles slid on a sheet of ice – some hitting other cars.
Florida Road was backed up with bumper-to-bumper traffic Monday morning as drivers took extra precaution. A semi truck slid across two lanes of traffic as two people ran to get out of its way on Goeglein Gulch Road. The front hill to Fort Lewis College closed for much of the morning. And it was a white-knuckle drive for drivers going up and coming down North College Drive, which was not plowed and not sanded as of 9 a.m. Many cars slid into curbs, spun their tires and crashed into other cars.
“We kind of got hit with this storm,” said Lisa Schwantes, spokeswoman for Colorado Department of Transportation. “We didn’t quite realize we were going to get the snowfall that we got.”
Schwantes said CDOT crews mobilized as soon as it became apparent the light snowfall and freezing temperatures were going to create problems on the roads.
“We have crews assigned around-the-clock,” she said. “We were out there this morning.”
The slick conditions caused a semi-truck and passenger vehicle to spin off the road at Farmington Hill on U.S. Highway 550, south of Durango. It caused the road to be closed about an hour, Schwantes said, but there were no reported injuries.
As of 11 a.m., Schwantes said the roads were improving.
The region’s ski mountains seem to have been stiff by the storm. Purgatory Resort reported no new snow in the past 24 hours, and Wolf Creek Ski Area reported just 3 inches of new snow.
Gerald Schaerer, who has lived in Durango since 1966, said road conditions were “shocking.” He saw no snowplows, no sanders and few police officers. He cited three possible reasons for the no-show: The city has given City Manager Ron LeBlanc too many pay raises, and doesn’t have enough money to plow and sand streets; the city is punishing residents for refusing to pass Ballot Question 2A, which would have raised taxes for streets and infrastructure; or the city is just inept.
“There is no excuse for the city not to have some sanders out,” Schaerer said. “The streets are just horrendous. It’s shocking to me.”
LeBlanc said snowplows were out and sanding, but he did not know what time they were dispatched. The snow was “barely minimal,” he said.
“We knew the weather was coming. We didn’t know if it was going to be significant or not. The weather predictions are usually off more than they’re on.”
North College Drive is a sheet of ice, going up and coming down. pic.twitter.com/dbryHlyv7W— Shane Benjamin (@Shane_Benjamin) November 12, 2018
Dwayne Valdez with S&R Affordable Towing said call volume was 50 percent higher than a typical Monday.
Valdez said one of the most difficult tow rescues was for a Cadillac that slid across two lanes of traffic on Colorado Highway 172 and landed in a ditch. He said despite the complexity, he freed the car in about 10 minutes.
“It’s been a pretty crazy day,” Valdez said.
The system was expected to move out of the region by Monday afternoon, said Megan Stackhouse, meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Grand Junction.
“Things are already winding down,” Stackhouse said at 7:30 a.m. “The system is going to be exiting the area through the afternoon.”
A ridge of high pressure over the western United States is expected to prevent additional moisture from entering the region until at least Saturday night, she said.
Durango School District 9-R issued a notice Monday morning saying schools are open, but urged parents and staff to be cautious commuting to school.
“This weather system caught many by surprise,” the message said.
The winter-like weather brought freezing temperatures. The high Monday was expected to be in the mid- to upper-30s with lows in the teens Monday night or early Tuesday. Temperatures will rebound with highs in the mid-50s by mid-week, and lows in the low 20s.
Be careful out there, especially on North College Drive, which is probably best avoided. pic.twitter.com/LtJHB9cQJ5— Shane Benjamin (@Shane_Benjamin) November 12, 2018