After a summer of drought, fires and above-average temperatures, a welcomed sight has returned to Southwest Colorado: snow. And to top it off, Wolf Creek Ski Area plans to open this weekend.
Across the San Juan Mountains, a storm system that entered the region earlier this week has brought snow to the high county and rain to lower elevations, breaking months of dry and hot weather.
"This is exactly what we were looking for," said Mike Charnick, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Grand Junction. "This is excellent news for the drought, getting moisture in the mountains and the forest."
As of 11:30 a.m. Wednesday, chain laws were in effect for Coal Bank, Molas, Red Mountain and Wolf Creek passes.
Elesha Goad, ticket office supervisor for Wolf Creek Ski Area, said the mountain is reporting about 12 inches of snow as of Wednesday morning at its summit elevation of 11,904 feet and 8 inches at mid-elevation.
As a result, Wolf Creek Ski area will open Saturday and Sunday, though the ski area is still deciding what portions of the mountain will be open and what the price of admission will be.
Kim Oyler, spokeswoman for Purgatory Resort, said the mountain north of Durango reported 10 inches of snow as of Wednesday afternoon. The ski resort plans to start snow-making as conditions permit in anticipation of its planned Nov. 17 opening.
Calls to Jen Brill, co-owner of Silverton Mountain, were not immediately returned Wednesday afternoon.
Charnick said it is too early to calculate snow totals for the region. Another part of the storm system is expected to continue to drop moisture Thursday through early Friday, he said.
October is already off to a good start bringing precipitation to Southwest Colorado, which has been in an extreme drought since the spring.
A weather station at the Durango-La Plata County Airport has recorded 1.35 inches of rain so far in October.
Still, the region is far below historic averages for the year. The same weather station has recorded just 5.52 inches since Jan. 1 - nearly 7 inches below normal.
"I don't know if we're completely out of drought," Charnick said. "We'll likely need multiple storms to get us back to where we should be this time of year. But certainly, this storm has made a decent dent."
Already, the positive effects of this recent storm are being felt.
The Animas River, for instance, was reaching historic low flows as a result of the prolonged drought in the month of September. But already, Animas River flows have nearly doubled this week.
As a result of the increased water in the Animas, a planned released out of Lake Nighthorse to send water down to New Mexico to fill the city of Farmington's reservoir was canceled.
Th week's storm was a result of a weather pattern that brought cold air from the north and moisture from the Pacific, Charnick said.
Charnick said it looks like this weekend and early next week will dry out. The next chance for precipitation is expected to be midweek next week, starting Wednesday, Oct. 17.