An unusual snow-producing storm that might leave more snow in Durango than on the highest peaks of the San Juan Mountains reached Southwest Colorado early Tuesday, canceling in-person learning at Durango, Bayfield and Ignacio school districts.
“Continued snow accumulations are expected throughout the day making travel conditions challenging,” Durango School District 9-R wrote in an email. “Remote learning will resume for in-person learners, while preschool, childcare and kids’ camp are all cancelled. Remote meal services are also cancelled today.”
Bayfield School District called a snow day for the whole district. Ignacio School District went to remote learning because of inclement road conditions.
Norv Larson said the main body of the snowstorm is expected to move in over central and southern Nevada, but instead of continuing east over the Four Corners, it will “retrograde” or move southwest over Baja California.
However, ahead of the storm is moisture from the Pacific, and that will be kicked over the Four Corners to produce the expected snowfall late Monday and early Tuesday.
“It looks like the best time for snowfall begins after midnight and then continues through midday, and there might be some lighter snow in the afternoon. The storm does come down through Nevada and then retrogrades, which is to say it heads of to the southwest, over Baja California, which is definitely unusual,” Larson said.
A chance exists that the foothills north of Durango might get more snow than the higher peaks of the San Juan Mountains to the north, given the unusual track of the storm, and New Mexico is expecting to get hit by the storm as well, Larson said.
“The dynamics of this storm, where it’s coming from, it’s really not doing much for those higher reaches in the San Juans,” he said.
Snowfall amounts have been upgraded at lower elevations in Southwest Colorado with 6 to 12 inches expected in the Durango area, with the foothills north of town favoring the higher snowfall amounts, Larson said.
Snowfall in Cortez is expected to range between 2 to 6 inches, he said.
Areas just northeast of Pagosa Springs also could be favored.
The La Plata Mountains might get more snow than areas like Silverton and Telluride, Larson said.
Silverton and Telluride could be looking at as little as 2 to 4 inches of snow, he said.
A winter storm warning has been issued for the Animas and San Juan river basins until 5 p.m. Tuesday with 6 to 12 inches falling in the lower-elevation river basins.
The winter storm warning expects driving to be “very difficult to impossible.” The warning notice added, “The hazardous conditions could impact the morning commute.
Phillip Bergt with the Colorado Department of Transportation’s Durango Maintenance Patrol said Monday night: “We are expecting the snow to be heavy and wet and will have our plow trucks clearing the highway road surfaces throughout the night and tomorrow.”
CDOT recommends travelers stay off the roads Tuesday, especially early when the snow is expected to be heaviest.
“Give us a chance to get out and tackle the snow. Cleared highways make for safer travel,” Bergt said.
The main body of the storm that moved off to Baja California should be back Thursday, but it won’t have much power in it until Friday, when it will be joined by moisture coming in from the Pacific Northwest, Larson said.
The combination of the two storms should provide a chance of snow over Southwest Colorado from Thursday through Sunday, Larson said.
It was too early Monday for the Weather Service to offer estimates on snowfall between Thursday and Sunday, Larson said.
“So Thursday, that low that drifted over Baja comes back as an open wave, and that’s where a chance of snow comes in Thursday, but that doesn’t look all that promising until the next system from the Pacific Northwest begins to move in Friday night to Saturday,” Larson said.
Don’t look for solid snow from Thursday to Sunday, but expect more off-and-on periods of snowfall, he said.
La Niña patterns this winter have brought below-normal snowfall to Southwest Colorado.
As of Thursday, the Natural Resources Conservation Service’s Snotel reported that Southwest Colorado’s snowpack in the San Juan, Animas, Dolores and San Miguel river basins was at 69% of the 30-year average.
The snowpack in the Upper Rio Grande basin in south-central Colorado was in better shape, at 96% of the 30-year average.
The National Weather Service Climate Prediction Center estimates La Niña conditions have a 95% chance of extending through March.