A major storm is pummeling Southwest Colorado with heavy snow. For drivers, it's creating headaches. For skiers and
snowboarders, it's long overdue. For students in Bayfield, Durango and Ignacio, it's a day off.
Though school was in session across the area Thursday, heavy snowfall prompted widespread school closures today in
Durango, Ignacio, Bayfield, Cortez and Pagosa Springs.
Since Monday, the region has been hit with a series of storms, the third and strongest beginning Thursday and
continuing into today. A blizzard warning is in effect until 6 p.m. today. Durango had received 11 inches of snow
from this storm front as of 5 p.m. Thursday, said Durango weather watcher Briggen Wrinkle.
Durango and Pagosa Springs can expect 10 to 20 inches total from the storm, with 1 to 3 feet possible in the San Juan
Mountains, said meteorologist Tom Renwick with the Grand Junction office of the National Weather Service.
Travel was difficult all day Thursday.
The snow has been tough, but it's really been the visibility that's killing us," said Durango-La Plata County
Airport Director Ron Dent.
Dent said visibility Thursday was as low as a quarter-mile, well short of the half-mile visibility required to ensure
As of Thursday evening, the Durango-La Plata County Airport was closed, although many flights already had been
canceled during the day. The terminal was scheduled to reopen at 8:30 a.m. today, but the runway is closed until
further notice. Travelers are advised to check flight information with their airline before heading to the airport.
Nancy Shanks, the regional public relations manager for the Colorado Department of Transportation, said areas at
higher elevations were seeing accumulations of 2 inches per hour Thursday.
All passes, including Wolf Creek, Red Mountain and Lizard Head, were closed by 6 p.m.
We had hoped to keep Coal Bank and Molas passes open until 8 or 9 p.m., but we had to close them between 6:30 and
7," she said. We measured 36 inches on the ground so far, and we expect another 30 to 35 inches by the end of the
storm. And that doesn't count the wind load."
The snow also posed a hazard south of the border in New Mexico. Highways were snowpacked and hazardous in Farmington
and Gallup, N.M., where schools were closed. More than 40 accidents were reported across San Juan County.
Areas below 6,500 feet elevation in Southwest Colorado and southeastern Utah, including Cortez, are under a flash
flood watch that began at 6 p.m. Thursday and continues until this morning.
The Colorado Avalanche Information Center issued an avalanche warning for the San Juan Mountains that is in effect
According to the center's Web site, areas of extreme avalanche danger are possible by today with widespread
avalanches a near certainty if snow develops as forecast."
Shanks said the winds, forecast to reach gusts of 60 to 70 mph, could make it too dangerous to trigger avalanches at
first light today. She said the department can't make any predictions about when any of the passes will open.
We have to weigh a lot of factors before we open a pass: visibility, safety and the probability that we can keep the
pass open and safe," she said.
For every grounded traveler, there was a happy skier.
Beth Holland, communications manager at Purgatory at Durango Mountain Resort, reported 9 inches of snow had fallen on
the mountain from 4:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Thursday. The midway depth was reported at 55 inches.
Because of the snow day for Durango students, Durango Mountain Resort is running a shuttle today for kids 13 and
older, departing from the Transit Center at 8:30 a.m. The ride is free with the purchase of a lift ticket, or $10 for
Lift tickets will be available for purchase at the Transit Center. Rides will be given on a first-come, first-served
basis, and there is room for 70 or more, Holland said.
Shovel fast, because Renwick, the weather service meteorologist, said there might not be much respite: A storm now
over the Pacific Ocean has the possibility of bringing more moisture our way Tuesday night or Wednesday, he said.
Patrick Young is an intern at The Durango Herald.