Snowy weather is expected to continue on and off through the next few days in the region. Here’s the latest:
UPDATE – 1 p.m.
Molas and Coal Bank passes on U.S. Highway 550 between Durango and Silverton have reopened, with chains required for all commercial vehicles, the Colorado Department of Transportation said shortly before 1 p.m. Other vehicles are required to have snow tires, chains or four-wheel/all-wheel drive.
The passes had been closed for avalanche mitigation work Wednesday morning. Red Mountain Pass, between Silverton and Ouray, remains closed.
Meanwhile, staff at the Durango-La Plata County Airport was catching up Wednesday after cascading flight delays on Tuesday.
Many flights were delayed about 45 minutes for de-icing and the airport had some flight cancelations in the evening because of poor visibility, said Tony Vicari, airport operations specialist.
Most travelers affected by cancellations were rescheduled to fly out Wednesday. A few were rescheduled on flights departing from Albuquerque, he said.
On Wednesday, two flights were delayed: the 7:30 a.m. United Airlines flight to Denver was scheduled to leave shortly before 4 p.m. The crew got in too late Tuesday night to leave on time, Vicari said. An American flight to Dallas was delayed because of a fueling issue.
The airport staff expected some delays may be possible late Thursday and on Christmas day because of the weather.
“Our next round of snow coming in tomorrow afternoon and into Christmas day – that should slow operations down,” he said.
But a full snow removal staff will be at work to keep holiday travel moving, he said.
“We’re doing our best,” he said.
Vicari couldn’t say how this holiday travel season compares to last year, but so far it seems busy.
“Our main parking lot is full,” he said.
UPDATE – Noon:
Skiers and snowboarders at resorts across the region were enjoying fresh powder Wednesday – with more expected.
Purgatory Resort has received 32 inches since Sunday and the resort has a 54-inch base, according to its snow report. Nine of the resort’s 10 lifts and three of the five terrain parks are open.
Early snow and the resort’s 50th anniversary helped push reservations for the week before Christmas up 25 percent compared with last year, Kim Oyler, a spokeswoman for the resort said last week.
The call volume for lodging reservation also was up, she said.
The Nordic Center opened on Dec. 13 and has benefited from the early snowfall as well.
Wolf Creek Ski Area reported 15 inches of new snow in the last 24 hours and it has an 86-inch base.
Telluride Ski Resort has received 11 inches in the last 24 hours, with a 52-inch base.
UPDATE –11:20 a.m.:
After getting hit with about 7 inches of snow in two days, Durango is expected to enjoy somewhat of a break on Wednesday, said Dennis Phillips a meteorologist with the National Weather Service.
Wednesday afternoon the town could see a quick burst of snow, but heavy snow is not expected again until Thursday evening, he said.
“The real punch of the storm won’t start until tomorrow evening,” he said.
The snow could continue until Friday morning and the town might get 3 inches of snow or more, he said.
Coal Bank, Molas and Red Mountain Pass on U.S. Highway 550 all remained closed Wednesday morning for avalanche control, said Nancy Shanks, spokeswoman for the Colorado Department of Transportation.
CDOT crews were going to try to open the passes Wednesday, but it was uncertain if that would be possible.
The passes received 17 inches of snow by Wednesday morning and the storm could bring 27 inches total for the passes, she said.
Snow was accumulating at a rate of 2 inches an hour Tuesday evening making it impossible for plows to work on the passes.
Wolf Creek Pass was icy but passable Wednesday. However, CDOT crews have tentative plans to close the west side of the pass Christmas morning for avalanche control, she said.
Monarch Pass reopened late Tuesday after a slide was cleared and remained open Wednesday, she said.
Durango and Southwest Colorado awoke to a blanket of snow Tuesday morning, and it continued to pile up throughout the day. Expect more.
By 2 p.m., the National Weather Service’s Grand Junction office reported more than 20 inches had fallen on Coal Bank Pass, with webcams showing heavy snow continuing. More than a foot had fallen over the San Juan Mountains.
At about 5:30 p.m. Tuesday, the Colorado Department of Transportation closed Red Mountain Pass on U.S. Highway 550 for the night because of avalanche danger, particularly in the Mother Cline slide area at mile marker 89, about three miles south of Ouray.
“They triggered it (Tuesday),” said CDOT spokeswoman Nancy Shanks, “but it’s still snowing like crazy up there, and they’re concerned it might run again.”
Molas, Coal Bank and Red Mountain passes were closed more than they were open Tuesday for avalanche mitigation. They reopened just after 3 p.m., according to Shanks, and drivers should expect all three passes to be closed Wednesday until more mitigation is completed.
“Half the mountain at Crested Butte was closed for avalanche work,” she said, reporting in from the ski area where she was spending part of her holidays. “We had a couple of good wet storms, then it got really cold and froze. Then we got all this soft snow. That leads to ‘Boom! Avalanche city.’”
The Colorado Avalanche Information Center said avalanche danger in the southern San Juans was considerable as of 5 p.m. Tuesday, with the northern San Juans under a high-risk warning.
In addition to snowpacked and icy conditions on the three passes, CDOT also reported poor visibility with heavy snowfall.
The Colorado State Patrol reported that Wolf Creek Pass was snowpacked and icy, and chain laws were in effect all day Tuesday. Monarch Pass on U.S. Highway 50 closed at about 2 p.m. Tuesday because of a snowbank collapse, Shanks said.
According to the weather service, between 4 and 5 inches had fallen in Durango by 5:30 p.m. Up to 8 inches is expected from this storm.
Late afternoon Tuesday, Purgatory Resort reported 19 inches of new snow in the preceding 24 hours, bringing its base to 45 inches. Wolf Creek Ski Area had received 27 inches in the previous 48 hours, bringing its base to 84 inches. Silverton Mountain, which just opened for the season Saturday, received 29 inches in the previous 72 hours, with a base of 49 inches.
The snow is bringing an extra gift to skiers who don’t want to tackle the icy roads. The city of Durango has opened the Big Tow at Chapman Hill for holiday hours.
A winter storm warning is in effect for Western Colorado through 9 a.m. Wednesday for elevations about 6,000 feet, and there’s still a 50 percent chance for snow through Wednesday, said Megan Stackhouse, a meteorologist with the weather service.
The high in Durango on Wednesday is projected at 34 degrees. Frigid weather will return Wednesday night, when a low of 5 is forecasted. “You’re going to be unsettled through the end of the week,” Stackhouse said, “and while this system moves out Wednesday night, there’s another one right behind it on Thursday.”
Reports on the scanner indicate roads were slick throughout Southwest Colorado all day Tuesday, and motorists continue to slide into ditches and get stuck well into the evening. Motorists involved in incidents with little damage and no injuries were being asked to file counter reports much of the day.
State Patrol Cpl. James Proctor reminded drivers to keep their speeds low and maintain sufficient distance between cars.
While flights at the Durango-La Plata County Airport appeared to be mostly on schedule, the United Airlines flight scheduled to arrive at 8:05 p.m. Tuesday was diverted back to Denver, and the 4:24 p.m. American Airlines flight to Dallas-Fort Worth was canceled. Denver International Airport was reporting significant delays Tuesday night because of flights delayed from other airports.