Winter weather covered area roads with slush and snow Thursday – sending scores of vehicles sliding off roads or spinning out of control, and the Colorado State Patrol warned road conditions were expected to deteriorate through the night, with colder temperatures turning slush to ice.
Colorado State Patrol Trooper Jeff Chmielewski said only one crash, near Forest Lakes involving a pedestrian, included injuries, but he did not have details about the pedestrian-vehicle crash.
U.S. Highway 550 was closed from mile marker 53, just north of Cascade, all the way to Ouray as of 8 p.m. Thursday, said Lisa Schwantes, spokeswoman with the Colorado Department of Transportation. A reopening time had not been set for the highway, which includes Coal Bank, Molas and Red Mountain passes.
CDOT also closed Colorado Highway 145 from Rico to the summit of Lizard Head Pass on Thursday night, Schwantes said.
Megan Stackhouse, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Grand Junction, said snow is expected through early Friday morning, and a second snow-producing storm is expected to move in Friday night, probably after 11 p.m.
Scattered power outages hit across the La Plata Electric Association service area in La Plata and Archuleta counties on Thursday night, said Indiana Reed, a spokeswoman for the electric cooperative.
A Durango School District 9-R school bus carrying 46 students from Miller Middle School on a field trip to Haviland Lake slid off U.S. Highway 550 north of Hermosa early Thursday afternoon, but no one was injured, Chmielewski said. The bus was pulled out of a ditch by a 9-R service vehicle.
Julie Popp, 9-R spokeswoman, said the bus carrying all the students returned to Miller about 2:15 p.m.
At least four other school bus routes were delayed, and the route that normally serves Rafter J was unable to enter the neighborhood because of a separate crash, Popp said.
Due to current weather conditions, all after-school activities are canceled today, Thursday, February 14, 2019. This includes all after-school activities, Kids Camp and community programs. More info on https://t.co/5heMOLXSkr.— Durango 9-R (@Durango9R) February 14, 2019
Heavy snow Thursday morning and early afternoon prompted 9-R to cancel after-school activities. Fort Lewis College announced it would be on a two-hour delay on Friday and classes before 10 a.m. were canceled.
Durango, Bayfield and Ignacio school districts did not have classes scheduled for Friday, meaning no tough decisions will have to be made Friday morning about whether to cancel classes.
Among Thursday’s casualties was Chmielewski’s cruiser, which was parked in a turnoff 24 feet off U.S. Highway 550 near Shalona Hill when it was struck by a southbound vehicle. The southbound vehicle had spun 180 degrees and slammed into Chmielewski’s cruiser as he investigated another crash. No one was injured in either crash, he said.
“Most of the crashes are caused by cars with improper tires for the conditions and by people driving too fast for the conditions,” he said. “We emphasize that no one should go out in these conditions with cars that aren’t prepared, and everyone should slow down and give more space between vehicles. Go easy on the throttle and the brakes.”
The City of Durango is requesting that motorist do not park on designated Snow Routes from 6PM Thurs, Feb 14th until 4PM on Fri, Feb 15th to allow snow plows to do their job. To view the designated Snow Route Map please click on the following link https://t.co/ZI7s54TBi3 pic.twitter.com/8mB68aWLg3— City of Durango (@CityofDurango) February 14, 2019
The city of Durango put snow route rules in effect. People are barred from parking in designated snow routes from 6 p.m. Thursday through 4 p.m. Friday to allow snowplows to clear streets.
“We expect conditions will deteriorate as temperatures drop, and people should avoid traveling unless they absolutely have to,” Chmielewski said.
A wet Pacific storm brought steady snowfall to Southwest Colorado all day Thursday. Forecasters were calling for up to 14 inches of snow in the mountains on top of about 6 inches that fell overnight Wednesday into early morning Thursday.
“We have tropical moisture coming in from Hawaii, and it’s expanding all over the desert Southwest,” Stackhouse said.
Durango can expect up to 8 inches of snow from the system, which should taper off Friday morning around dawn, she said.
The storm is accompanied by a strong jet stream with wind gusts of up to 50 mph possible. Stackhouse said travelers should expect blowing snow and limited visibility, especially in the mountains.
A winter storm warning was in effect until noon Friday for the southwest and northwest San Juan Mountains. A winter storm warning means winter weather conditions will make travel difficult or impossible above 8,000 feet in elevation.
Thursday night, chain laws were in effect for commercial vehicles on Hesperus Hill on U.S. Highway 160 from mile maker 72 to 81. Chain laws also were in effect for commercial vehicles on Wolf Creek Pass on U.S. Highway 160 from mile markers 157 to 176.
“It’s very infrequent that we have to put chain laws in effect on Hesperus Hill, so that tells you something about the storm,” Schwantes said. “It’s a wet, heavy snow that’s coming down fast and furious. If people can stay off the roads, we would encourage it.”
Drivers should slow down and give themselves plenty of space, she said.
And round 2 has begun! Showers have redeveloped across SW CO with snow falling over the San Juans, as evident by these webcam images from along Highway 550. Showers will continue to increase in coverage this PM/tonight as a strong surge of moisture moves into the region.: CDOT pic.twitter.com/g9lWiu9Tj7— NWS Grand Junction (@NWSGJT) February 14, 2019
Two other snow-producing cells are expected this week: One will move in late Friday night and linger through the day Saturday, and a second cell will arrive Sunday.
“We’re very much in an unsettled pattern, and we don’t see a high pressure building,” Stackhouse said.
The storm coming in Friday night will be colder, with Durango expected to receive up to 3 inches of snow and higher elevations in the San Juans could see up to 10 inches. Durango’s high temperature Friday is expected to be 42 degrees. Friday’s low is expected to be 22 degrees.
The Colorado Avalanche Information Center listed the avalanche danger as considerable, a 3 on a 5-point scale in the southern and northern San Juan Mountains on Thursday.