It’s only fitting that on the last day of 2018 – which was one of the worst drought years in recorded history – a snowstorm would dump on Southwest Colorado.
That’s exactly what happened. And what better way to ring in the new year?
A storm that entered the region early Monday and continued into Tuesday buried the San Juan Mountains, and reported snow totals back it up.
More than 10 inches fell in Durango and Bayfield, nearly 12 inches were reported near Haviland Lake, 14 inches near Lake Nighthorse and almost 15 inches fell in Vallecito as of Tuesday afternoon.
A snow gauge near Chimney Rock National Monument recorded 2 feet of snow.
Ski resorts made out big, too. Wolf Creek Ski Area reported 34 new inches of snow from this storm. Purgatory Resort tallied 13 inches, and Hesperus Ski Area, which opened Tuesday, received 18 inches of snow in 48 hours.
Jimmy Fowler, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Grand Junction, said this storm played out as expected.
A trough, which usually precedes precipitation, moved into Colorado earlier this week, bringing snow to the north and central mountains. But the trough became cutoff over northern Arizona, paving the way for moisture in the southwest.
“That really allowed Durango to get a pretty good-sized storm,” Fowler said.
The storm tapered off Tuesday afternoon, and the rest of the week is expected to remain sunny and clear.
But the cold temperatures are predicted to linger. The National Weather Service is calling for overnight lows Tuesday and Wednesday to dip below zero degrees.
“It’s going to be pretty chilly,” Fowler said.
The storm made roads treacherous for holiday travelers, with multiple vehicle slide-offs and rollovers. Though authorities did not report any crashes with significant injuries.
On Tuesday morning, a Ford F-150 carrying five people went off U.S. Highway 550 south of Silverton and just south of the summit of Molas Pass. The road was closed to rescue the people in the truck. Reports indicate they suffered minor injuries.
Highway 550 will be temporarily closed Wednesday to recover the vehicle. Lisa Schwantes, spokeswoman for the Colorado Department of Transportation, did not know Tuesday afternoon what time the highway would be closed.
Schwantes did say that there will be avalanche control operations on the west side of Wolf Creek Pass beginning at 6 a.m. Wednesday and continuing throughout much of the morning. Up to 45-minute delays are expected, she said.
Eastbound traffic will be stopped at milepost 157 near the Treasure Falls trailhead. Westbound traffic will be stopped at milepost 166, near the summit of Wolf Creek Pass. Crews plan to finish their work by noon Wednesday.
As of 2 p.m. Tuesday, Schwantes said this was the only avalanche control work planned for the region.
Chain laws remained in effect late Tuesday for Coal Bank, Molas and Red Mountain passes. Commercial vehicles were required to have chains or alternative traction devices. Passenger vehicles were required to have snow or mud/snow tires, use chains/alternative traction devices or be a four-wheel/all-terrain vehicle.
Two storms this week and last week have provided a much-needed bump to the snowpack in Southwest Colorado after a slow start to the winter season.
As of Dec. 31, snowpack in the Animas, Dolores, San Miguel and San Juan basins was at 61 percent of historic averages. That is sure to change when snow totals from the past two days are taken into account.
A weather gauge at Durango-La Plata County Airport finished the year recording about 6.3 inches of precipitation for the entirety of 2018 – that’s 10 inches below historic averages.
Since early 2018, the Four Corners has been listed in the most extreme drought category, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor.