So much snow has fallen from the most recent storm to hit Southwest Colorado that officials are warning residents about the danger of roof cave-ins and asking them to clear their roofs, but Durango children are enjoying an unanticipated winter break.
Durango School District 9-R, Animas High School, Mountain Middle School and Bayfield schools canceled classes and activities for Friday. The closures come on top of school cancellations on Tuesday and Thursday, and children were out of school Monday for Presidents Day.
Fort Lewis College also canceled Friday classes.
Ignacio School District had not made a decision to cancel classes as of 6 p.m. Thursday.
A winter storm warning is in effect until 5 p.m. Friday, calling for up to 15 inches of snow in Durango from the storm. But local amateur weather observer Jeff Givens said he believes it could deliver up to 20 inches.
The southern San Juan Mountains are at a high avalanche risk, according to the Colorado Avalanche Information Center.
Clear roofsLa Plata County’s Office of Emergency Management Director Butch Knowlton said at a 30-inch depth, the snow weighs 45 pounds per square foot – or 22.5 tons across a 1,000-square-foot roof. That’s the weight of five full-sized pickup trucks, Knowlton said.
Residents are encouraged to clear their roofs.
Knowlton also pointed out the danger if rain falls on top of all this snow, a situation that would add more weight to the loads on roofs.
La Plata County issued a news release that said sagging, creaking, moaning and visible cracks in walls are signs of unstable roofs.
The county said roofs on mobile homes, manufactured homes and flat and low-pitched roofs should be at the top of the list for clearing.
The county said people with lower roofs that receive snow from upper decks, long roofs, and areas of roofs where snow accumulates should be swept.
This is just the startForecasters expect snow will fall with a few intermittent breaks through midday Friday. For the most part, it is expected to be a slow, steady snowfall, said Kris Sanders, meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Grand Junction.
Cold temperatures from the north will keep the snow light and fluffy – less dense than a storm last week that was part of an atmospheric river that carried warm, wet air from the Southern Pacific.
The storm will push out of the area Friday afternoon or Friday night, he said.
The weekend is expected to be dry. The National Weather Service forecast has clear skies through Thursday.
Accumulations overnight Wednesday included 6 inches in Durango, 8 inches in Rockwood, 13 inches near Hesperus and a foot of snow in the higher peaks of the San Juan Mountains, Sanders said.
Sanders said he expects Durango to receive another 6 to 8 inches from the storm, bringing the storm total to 12 to 15 inches of snow.
Road conditionsWolf Creek Pass was slated to close at 6 a.m. Friday for avalanche mitigation work.
On Thursday, Coal Bank Pass on U.S. Highway 550 north of Durango opened for traffic around 4:40 p.m. It had been closed earlier in the day as snowplows worked to clear the way and crews conducted avalanche mitigation work.
Chain laws are in effect for Wolf Creek Pass on U.S. Highway 160 from mile marker 157 to mile marker 176 and for Coal Bank and Molas passes on U.S. Highway 550 from mile marker 49 to mile marker 70. Chain laws were also in effect on Red Mountain Pass on U.S. Highway 550 from mile marker 80 to mile marker 94.
US 160 WCP: The calm before the next big storm. 58 of snow in the past 7 days and another 2-3’ (yes feet) expected over the next couple of days. Avoid travel in SW Colorado if possible. pic.twitter.com/VrMLD76KFq— CSP District 5 (@CSP_District5) February 21, 2019
Snow limits accessibilityAll this snow can make getting around tough. But it can be even tougher for people with disabilities.
Random piles of snow and unshoveled sidewalks make an already difficult task even more arduous, said Bailey Carlson, lead direct support professional at Community Connections, a nonprofit that helps people with disabilities.
Snow has been piled in handicap parking spots around Durango, Carlson said. She’s called the city about it but hasn’t received a response. Officials may be too busy with snow removal, she said. Levi Lloyd, director of City Operations, and Amber Blake, assistant city manager, did not immediately respond to request for comment Thursday.
People with disabilities often can’t park in regular parking spots around the city because the spots are either too compact for wheelchair deployment or too far for someone with limited mobility.
“The fact that they are piled up with snow means the individuals with disabilities are having trouble accessing their community,” Carlson said. “Help the people out. Clear the spots and give everyone access. We all have a right and we all deserve it.”
Flights continue to flyTony Vicari, aviation director of the Durango-La Plata County Airport, said snow-removal crews have managed to keep the runway clear.
Vicari said departures were on time Thursday morning but delays could crop up as the snow builds.
“Make sure to check with your airline beforehand, and take it slow on the road,” he said.
Digging out of droughtA good portion of Southwest Colorado has once again been downgraded on the U.S. Drought Monitor’s drought scale as the region continues to be pummeled with snow.
Every Thursday, the U.S. Drought Monitor releases a map of the U.S. showing where drought conditions exist, and to what severity, on a scale of D1 to D4.
The Four Corners was listed at varying levels of drought until April 17, 2018, when the region was listed in the most extreme category, D4 or “exceptional drought.”
But slowly, Southwest Colorado has been digging its way out of the drought. Last month, the U.S. Drought Monitor downgraded most of Southwest Colorado to D3, the extreme drought category.
And, on Thursday, La Plata and Montezuma counties were dropped to D2, the severe drought category.
But many parts of Southwest Colorado, including San Juan County, remain in D3, the extreme drought category.