Spring Storm Leaves Feet of Snow, Avalanche Danger
“Winter came back with a vengeance!” stated Ian Hoyer with the Colorado Avalanche Information Center. “Avalanche conditions are dramatically more dangerous than they have been in a while.”
Significant snowfall which began Friday evening has left behind feet, rather than inches of snow in the high country. That fast-stacking accumulation combined with moderate to strong easterly winds is building dangerous avalanche conditions across Colorado. And with that somewhat atypical wind direction, backcountry travelers are cautioned to be on the lookout for strange wind-loading patterns that could lead to avalanches.
While dangerous, the snowpack situation is not overly complex to understand. All of new snow, up to 2 feet in some areas, mixed with the wind make Storm Slab avalanches likely. These avalanches could break up to a couple feet thick even on sheltered slopes.
According to the CAIC website, in these conditions, an avalanche could easily be triggered by the weight of a person.
“They will be large enough to bury you, or take you on a long ride through rocks and trees,” stated Hoyer in his report on the official CAIC website. All these factors come together to a fairly simple conclusion: avoid riding on or underneath steep slopes until this new snow has had time to settle. Be on the lookout for shooting cracks, whumpfing collapses, or fresh avalanches as evidence that the new snow is ready to avalanche. These are all signs that you should tone back your terrain selection even further.
And while avalanche danger is important, what is more relevant to local residents are road conditions. And on Friday things were were a mess!
As Leadville commuters attempted to make their way home, they encountered both of Lake County’s north arteries closed at some point Friday.
The first accident was reported on Highway 91 between Leadville and Climax. According to Colorado State Patrol (CSP) Trooper Alisha Danko, there were two vehicles involved in the head on crash at mile marker 171, or what is more commonly know as Stork Curve just below the Climax Mine at Fremont Pass. The ticketed driver incurred the more severe, but not life-threatening injuries and was transported from the scene. Both drivers were reported to be from Leadville. Conditions at the scene were reported to include blowing snow which created low visibility.
Then Highway 24 between Leadville and Minturn was closed at Tennessee Pass around 8 p.m. last Friday, April 15. Trooper Danko reported that CSP was asked to assist in closing this road as conditions deteriorated rapidly as the predicted Spring storm made passage unsafe for many high country roads.
Certainly this was the case on Vail Pass, as the road saw many accidents forcing that stretch of I-70 closed to motorists several times throughout Friday evening. This situation usually causes a chain reaction on Highway 24 as travelers attempt to circumvent the I-70 “parking lot” by re-routing over Battlement Mountain and Tennessee Pass, which is never a good choice for semi-trucks.
Eventually the stretch of highway between Minturn and Leadville was cleared and deemed safe for travel by 10 p.m. on Friday night.
Once everyone made it home, they seemed to be content to heed the advice from officials and stay home. Locally, traffic was relatively light throughout the weekend.
“The southern end of the county definitely got more (snow) than the other end,” stated Assistant Director of Lake County Public Works Michael Irwin in an interview with Leadville Today. “There’s a couple feet of snow down in Twin Lakes.”
All of Lake County roads remained open and passable as Irwin reported that a full crew was out in force both Friday and Saturday, April 15-16. Today, as this system moves out of the area, residents will continue to see plow trucks and a grader out on the roads especially down in the Twin Lakes area. But don’t be fooled, there’s a lot more snow on the way!
Road and bridge crews headed back out at 3 a.m. this morning, preparing highways and local thoroughfares for the work week. Extended forecasts for Leadville and Lake County predict more snow through the week, with skies clearing by Thursday, April 21.
“We’re out there trying to keep the roads safe for them,” concluded Irwin, urging residents to use caution and common sense.