Snowzilla 2019 Marches Into Leadville
Almost 5 Feet in 8 Days for Leadville
There’s been a lot of speculation concerning the actual amount of snow that America’s highest city has seen since the calendar turned to March. However, when it comes to topics like this, it’s best to defer to the local experts. And in Leadville, those folks are Donna and Charles Kuster.
The Kusters have been recording the weather in Lake County for over 35 years and according to their calculations, the total for March 1 at midnight through March 9 at 7 a.m. is 57.5 inches. That’s almost five feet of snow in a week!
“My Dad says this is the most snow he has seen since moving to Leadville 35+ years ago! This is definitely an unusual event!” said his son Charles who grew up in Leadville and now lives in Norman, Okla. “There have been snowier winters,” posted the younger Kuster on social media. “I also remember large snow piles as a kid, but not quite as much snow on the ground at any given time. 50″ in a week is also pretty rare in Leadville; that did not happen while I lived there.”
But for those who do live in Leadville Today, March has definitely come in like a lion! And for those readers who don’t live here, or somehow missed all of the snow-related events that occurred from March 1 – 9, 2019, LT brings you the Leadville Snowzilla 2019 report, including some never-before-seen videos and photos.
But before that, and perhaps more importantly, here’s the latest from the Colorado Avalanche Information Center (CAIC) concerning what conditions are looking like for the Sawatch Range and the Lake County area as of today.
Local Snowpack and Avalanche Report
After several days and countless conversations about the scope of the recent storm and avalanche cycle, it seems that snow and avalanche workers are coming to the same conclusion. The remnants of the historic avalanches do more to describe the size and potential danger of avalanches that YOU can trigger today than we can hope to. It is becoming more difficult to trigger these avalanches, but the consequences remain the same. Conservative decision making and very cautious route-finding remain the name of the game for safe backcountry travel.
We have been discussing the variable snowpack depths throughout the Central Mountains and how it relates to the current stability for most of the winter. If you read this discussion frequently, it is very likely that you have seen us use the phrase ”thinner, weaker snowpack” once or twice. After the majority of the Central Mountains received over 5 feet of snow with recent storms, the question becomes, have we pushed past “thinner, weaker” yet? The answer will likely be yes, but the snowpack needs time to adjust before we test it. Patience is a virtue could not be more appropriate for these conditions. Testing a slope too soon will be catastrophic for you and possibly others that are near or below the slope.
The next storm begins to affect the area today (3/12/19). Although it doesn’t appear to pack quite the punch as the last two storms for most of the Central Mountains, remember that our snowpack is still on the mend. The thresholds for issuing an avalanche watch and warning will be significantly lower until more time has passed since the major storms in early March. We will need to pay close attention to how the snowpack reacts to the incoming load to help us make safer decisions as we move farther into the spring.
Leadville Snowzilla: March 1 – 9, 2019
School was Canceled
The Lake County School District (LCSD) saw its 6th Snow Day in the last ten years, last week as school administrators made the decision to call classes off for Monday, March 4 on account of the snowfall. In a letter to LCSD parents and the community, the district’s Chief Financial Officer Kate Barlett wrote: “As a safety precaution due to the extensive amount of snow received this weekend, and in consultation with the Lake County Office of Emergency Management, all of our schools will be closed on Monday, March 4 to allow for snow removal from roofs and school property.” Although many long-timers could never recall school being called off because of a snowstorm, the district has done so several times in recent history and followed with the same decision for Thursday & Friday, March 7 & 8. NO SCHOOL.
Also, parents and students should also be advised that on Tuesday (3/12/19) afternoon, the LCSD issued a “Monitoring Weather for 3/13 – No Closure Yet” notice. Look for your alert.
Highway 91 CLOSED Due to Numerous Avalanches
Late Wednesday night into Thursday morning (March 6 & 7), Lake County was reporting anywhere from 1 ½ – 2 feet of snow had been dumped overnight from the powerful winter storm. Thursday, March 7 was a mess and by the end of the day, Lake County’s two main portals – Highways 91 and Highway 24 W – had been officially closed by the Colorado Department of Transportation. Work crews needed time to clear off numerous avalanches reported along Highway 91 between Leadville and Copper Mountain.
LT received a series of videos from reader @hypnotic_jerk, who lives just a couple of miles north of Leadville. In the first video, he was able to record the avalanche that came down off of Mt. Zion and onto Highway 91. Then check out the second video which demonstrates the slow-slide aftermath as the massive amounts of snow makes its way down the mountainside, snapping mighty pine trees like toothpicks. And finally, the third video shows the numerous avalanches and snow slides that occurred just in that part of the headwaters of the Arkansas Valley by the heavy wet snow load that came through overnight on Wednesday, March 6.
Avalanche on Mt. Zion near Leadville
Snow Slide After Mt. Zion Avalanche
Aftermath of Avalanche Activity near Leadville
Cars Engulfed by Avalanche on Highway 91
While the snowslides closer to town along Highway 91 were making the rounds on social media, it was the avalanche closer to Cooper Mountain in Summit County that made the TV news. Three vehicles had been swept up in the massive snowslide, which was reported at mile marker 125. A point of reference for readers, the avalanche came down in what is familiarly known as the “Y” chute located on the east side (opposite Copper Mountain) of Highway 91. For long-timers who may make the Vail Pass commute when you’re going home, headed east on I-70 as you come down into Copper Mountain you may be familiar with the three distinguishable chutes that spell out the word SKY. According to officials on the scene, it was the “Y” chute that let loose, traveling 1000s of vertical feet. The avalanche came down with enough force to cross over the river and spill out onto Highway 91, consuming three vehicles. Fortunately, everyone got out and no injuries were reported. The incident left Highway 91 closed until Friday morning, giving crews time to clean up numerous slides that had crossed Highway 91 throughout the day on Thursday.
Highway 24 Sees Middle-of-Night Avalanche
By the time International Women’s Day, March 8 had arrived, it was clear to everyone who was in charge: Mother Nature! By now, words like “historic” and “epic” that had become so overused, actually had the pictures to go with them. But if Highway 91 saw lots of activity on Thursday, it appeared that each portal in and out of town was going to take its own turn in the avalanche spotlight before Snowzilla 2019 was over.
And Friday night (March 8) was Highway 24 West’s turn. The Colorado State Patrol reported via Twitter at midnight on 3/08/19 that “HWY 24 is closed at Minturn and at Leadville due to large avalanche covering both lanes.” The slide occurred between mile markers 148 and 154. According to the Colorado State Patrol (CSP), the highway was closed in both directions as the avalanche was covering both lanes. Emergency crews responded. No injuries were reported in the slide. Shortly before 1 a.m. Saturday, CSP said the highway had reopened in both directions.
While crews were mopping up the Highway 24 avalanche in the middle of a cold, snowy night, by dawn on Saturday, March 9, it was another incident down south near the village of Twin Lakes that grabbed the avalanche headline. An avalanche was reported approximately 3 miles west of Twin Lakes near Monitor Rock from the Northside. The snow slide was approximately 50′ in length and 6″ feet deep and covered parts of Highway 82, the road between Aspen and Twin Lakes. The road is closed during the winter, so no vehicle traffic was impacted. There were no reports of damage to people or property. Colorado Avalanche Information Center crews were on the scene along with Lake County Search and Rescue and other emergency personnel who were checking on residents cut off by the snow slide. Everyone was fine.
It does take a village to report the news in Leadville Today, so thanks to contributors like photographer Jennifer Brown-Rogowski who lives near Twin Lakes and was able to go down and take a couple pictures of where emergency crews had the road blocked off on Highway 82, as snow removal crews got ready to go in and clear the road.
More Winter Weather in the Forecast
While Leadville Snowzilla 2019 is in the history books, it’s what lies ahead that should have residents keeping an eye to the sky. Forecasters have issued a WINTER STORM WARNING FROM NOW, IN EFFECT UNTIL 6 AM MDT THURSDAY. For tonight and all throughout the day on Wednesday and into Thursday, heavy snow is expected, with possibly another 12 to 15 inches of snow accumulation, with winds gusting as high as 40 mph. Travel could be very difficult. Patchy blowing snow could significantly reduce visibility. The cold wind chills as low as 25 below zero could cause frostbite on exposed skin in as little as 30 minutes.
So get ready for the next blast of winter, Leadville. It’s coming whether you’re ready or not!
Become a Leadville Weather Watcher
When you live at 10,152 feet it’s generally a good idea to keep an eye to the sky. In fact, the weather can impact a lot of things and activities in Leadville. But if you have an extra special interest in meteorology. If you’ve dreamed of collecting snow on more than just your rooftop, then CoCoRaHS needs your help! They need more Leadville and Lake County volunteers to report the weather conditions.
CoCoRaHS is an acronym for the Community Collaborative Rain, Hail and Snow Network. CoCoRaHS is a unique, non-profit, community-based network of volunteers of all ages and backgrounds working together to measure and map precipitation (rain, hail, and snow). By using low-cost measurement tools, stressing training and education, and utilizing an interactive Web-site, their aim is to provide the highest quality data for natural resource, education, and research applications. The following are some basic questions and links to additional information. Be a weather-watcher in Leadville Today!
Where did the CoCoRaHS Network originate?
The network originated with the Colorado Climate Center at Colorado State University in 1998 thanks in part to the Fort Collins flood a year prior. In the years since CoCoRaHS now includes thousands of volunteers in the Northern Hemisphere. Click here for a look at the order of states/countries that have joined the network.
This is a community project. Everyone can help, young, old, and in-between. The only requirements are an enthusiasm for watching and reporting weather conditions and a desire to learn more about how weather can affect and impact our lives.
What will our volunteer observers be doing?
Each time a rain, hail or snow storm crosses your area, volunteers take measurements of precipitation from as many locations as possible (see equipment). These precipitation reports are then recorded on our Web site www.cocorahs.org. The data are then displayed and organized for many of our end users to analyze and apply to daily situations ranging from water resource analysis and severe storm warnings to neighbors comparing how much rain fell in their backyards.