At long last, Durango received its first significant snowfall in nearly three weeks – a boon to local ski resorts and a region in prolonged drought, but a wrench in Tuesday morning’s commute.
The National Weather Service in Grand Junction had called for storm totals between 6 to 12 inches. Kris Anders, a meteorologist with the NWS, said the storm lined up pretty much as predicted.
As of around 11 a.m., the latest records available, areas around Durango and north of Bayfield saw about 10 inches, and the New Mexico line had about 5 to 7 inches.
“It looks like it’s panning out pretty good,” Anders said.
Snow started to taper off Tuesday afternoon, with the NWS’s winter storm warning expiring at 5 p.m.
Heavy snow Tuesday morning, however, caused all sorts of trouble for drivers.
U.S. Highway 550 south of Durango closed about 8:10 a.m. after a semitrailer became stuck and required a tow. Then, Farmington Hill on Highway 550 just south of Durango city limits was so slick and icy that law enforcement rerouted traffic onto County Road 220.
Highway 550, however, was fully reopened around 10:30 a.m., though drivers were still asked to drive slow and remain home if possible.
The snowstorm caused multiple slide-offs throughout the county. But it appears none of those crashes resulted in serious injuries as of 4 p.m., according to Colorado State Patrol and the La Plata County Sheriff’s Office.
The Upper Pine River Fire Protection District reported there was a rollover in the 2400 block of County Road 501 south of Forest Lakes subdivision. Traffic was temporarily impacted. Chief Bruce Evans did not respond for comment.
Southwest Colorado’s mountain passes – including Coal Bank, Molas, Red Mountain and Wolf Creek – had chain and traction laws in effect Tuesday morning, but those requirements were lifted in the afternoon.
“We just urge folks to stay at home if they can,” said Lisa Schwantes, spokeswoman for the Colorado Department of Transportation. “Roads are slick. If you can stay inside, do it and wait for things to clear up.”
Schwantes said no avalanche mitigation was required on Coal Bank, Molas or Red Mountain passes. She was unsure if Wolf Creek Pass would be impacted.
Tony Vicari, director of Durango-La Plata County Airport, said there were minor delays on arriving flights, but no flights were canceled or experienced significant delays.
“The airport is running fairly smoothly,” he said.
San Juan Basin Public Health closed the COVID-19 testing site at the La Plata County Fairgrounds on Tuesday because of inclement weather. The testing site will also be closed Wednesday for Inauguration Day.
Tom Sluis, spokesman for the city of Durango, said snowplows were working 12-hour shifts clearing the snow and sanding around town. It was expected to be a two-night effort to plow and haul snow to the city’s dumping site.
“It’s always a challenge when you wake up to 10 inches of snow, but fortunately, Durango has the best snowplow crews in the state,” he said.
But there was fun to be had on Durango’s second significant snowfall of the winter.
Durango, Bayfield and Ignacio school districts all canceled in-person classes for the day. Bayfield declared a snow day, meaning no remote learning was occurring.
Tuesday’s storm gave a much-needed boost of fresh snow to the region’s ski resorts, which haven’t received significant snowfall in nearly three weeks.
As of Tuesday evening, Wolf Creek Ski Area reported 12 inches of new snow, and Purgatory Resort was showing nearly 6 inches on its webcam.
With the COVID-19 pandemic limiting indoor seating, forcing more restaurants to rely on outdoor patios, the snow has added an extra element to the experience.
At 11th Street Station, co-owner Marcos Wisner said the food truck spot almost had its entire outdoor seating area snowplowed just in time for lunch service.
Even though it’s winter, he said guests were taking to outdoor seating, enjoying the snow and the outdoor heaters.
“People are definitely taking a more après-ski attitude toward it,” Wisner said. “It’s actually tolerable and comfortable.”
Mike Hurst, general manager at El Moro Spirits and Tavern, also said the restaurant had its outdoor seating cleared in time for hungry customers.
“(The snow) makes for a fun ambiance,” he said. “I’ve been joking with guests calling it venture dining. We definitely get some hardy folks. It’s a better energy when it snows.”
Indeed, Dan Korman a broker and owner of Alpenglow Properties, said it’s a bit of a myth that people fall in love with Durango in the summers, buy a home and then are scared off by a grueling winter of shoveling snow.
“I’ve never heard of anyone moving because we got too much snow,” he said. “Sometimes, it’s the opposite. People are stoked when it snows.”
Southwest Colorado is expected to see more chances of precipitation in the coming days, said Norv Larson, a meteorologist with the NWS.
Wednesday is expected to be dry, but then the chance of precipitation returns Thursday, lasting until at least Sunday, and possibly into next week.
“It might be pretty good for your area once again,” he said. “It looks like we’re headed into a more active pattern.”
And Southwest Colorado needs it: Before Tuesday’s storm, the region was at just 65% of historic, normal snowpack averages for this time of year. And the U.S. Drought Monitor has continually listed the region in its high drought category.