Winter Traveling Blues: Blowing In The Wind
More Snow – And Wind – on the Way for Lake County
A major snow system passed through the central Colorado Rocky Mountain region on Wednesday into Thursday, Feb. 4 leaving behind anywhere from 6 inches to up to a foot of snow in some areas around Leadville Today. And there’s more snow on the way!
The National Weather Service has been busy popping off one Winter Storm Warning after another with specific regional conditions, including snow accumulations. At 6:25 this morning they posted the following URGENT – WINTER WEATHER MESSAGE
Western Mosquito Range/East Lake County Above 11000 Feet- Leadville Vicinity/Lake County Below 11000 Feet- Eastern Sawatch Mountains Above 11000 Feet-Winter Weather Advisory remains in effect until 9 AM MST this morning.
- WHAT…Snow. Additional snow accumulations of up to one inch. Winds gusting as high as 45 mph.
- WHERE…Western Mosquito Range, Eastern Sawatch Mountains Above 11000 Feet and central Lake County Below 11000 Feet including Leadville.
- WHEN…Until 9 AM MST this morning.
- IMPACTS…Plan on slippery road conditions. Patchy blowing snow could significantly reduce visibility. The hazardous conditions will impact the morning commute. The cold wind chills as low as 25 below zero could cause frostbite on exposed skin in as little as 30 minutes.
Travel and Road Conditions
For travelers, depending on where you are headed in Colorado, you could encounter areas that anticipate receiving an additional 10 to 18 inches of new snow. Chains or alternative traction devices (ATDs) required for all CMV, including buses and vans of 16+ capacity. Most areas in the state will experience Heavy and blowing snow expected. Winds gusting as high as 60 mph. Snow accumulations will be less on the leeward and south faces slopes. Slow down and use caution while traveling. The latest road conditions for the state you are calling from can be obtained by calling 5 1 1.
The main impact will be to transportation. Strong crosswinds will be hazardous to lightweight and high profile vehicles, including campers and tractor-trailers. There will be a high risk for vehicle blow overs. In addition, areas of blowing and drifting snow may result in locally reduced visibilities and slick spots on roadways. A High Wind Warning means a hazardous high wind event is expected or occurring. Sustained wind speeds of at least 40 mph or gusts of 58 mph or more can lead to property damage. For more advice on driving in windy conditions, LT turns to Trooper Gary Cutler with the Colorado State Patrol whose monthly report can be found below. Stay Safe on the roads and if you don’t have to travel until the roads are cleared – DON’T!
A Rather Blustery Drive
By Master Trooper Gary Cutler, Colorado State Patrol
As Winnie the Pooh stated. “It undoubtedly looks like a rather blustery day.” As that silly old bear stated so many years ago, it still rings true. We have seen a lot of blustery days this year with some gusts reaching as high as 116 MPH.
Wind can affect your travels in many ways. The one that comes to most people’s minds is how it can and often does topple big rigs pulling trailers. Even though you may not be driving a semi, you do need to be aware of them in a wind storm.
If you are feeling wind gusts while driving, it could mean that a particularly strong one can hit the semi and tip it over. You need to be careful with them while following or passing them. Watch to see if you see the semi having trouble maintaining its lane. It could mean something more dangerous is in the near future. Spend as little time around them as possible in case a gust hits it while you are near.
This goes the same if you are pulling a trailer. Lighter trailers, especially empty ones are more prone to dragging the tow vehicle off the road with it when hit by a gust of wind. Also, make sure your load is secure especially in wind storms. Items that you normally wouldn’t think will blow off your trailer may indeed fly off and possibly hit a vehicle or go into the roadway and cause another vehicle to crash.
Those of you who don’t pull trailers or drive semis are not off the hook. Particularly strong winds can move your car into the oncoming lane of travel. I’m sure you’ve felt your vehicle moving around and sometimes finding it hard to maintain your lane. Again, be cautious of wind storms and especially ones with strong wind gusts. If there is a report of possible strong winds, try to adjust your travel plans. Get where you’re going safely.
“Oh, Pooh, there’s more to life than just balloons and honey.”
As always, safe travels!
Trooper Cutler is a Public Information Officer for the Colorado State Patrol and a regular contributor to Leadville Today.
Warning: Avalanche Danger Increase
According to the latest report from the Colorado Avalanche Information Center (CAIC), as new snow accumulates throughout the afternoon and into the evening the avalanche danger will rise to HIGH (Level 4 of 5). It will be very easy to trigger avalanches large enough to bury and kill a person. Travel in avalanche terrain is not recommended beginning on Wednesday afternoon. Consult www.colorado.gov/avalanche for detailed information.
Victims Recovered in Ophir Pass Avalanche
On Wednesday, Feb. 3, The Ophir Pass avalanche recovery operation accomplished extracting the three missing skiers from Monday’s avalanche. The victims have been recovered but still need to be removed from the area via helicopter. The weather was too adverse for helicopter operations on Wednesday. Ground teams worked all day from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m.
According to the official report, San Juan County Sheriff’s Dept., Office of Emergency Management, San Juan County Search & Rescue, La Plata County Search & Rescue, Silverton Mountain Medical Crew, and CAIC were all involved in today’s operation. La Plata County SAR brought in a snowcat to remove 12-foot-high avalanche debris on the road from yesterday’s avalanche that ran naturally in the area. Avalanche activity impeded the recovery mission and needed to be removed in order to retrieve the trapped snowmobiles and equipment that were used on Tuesday’s operations. All equipment was successfully extracted from the accident area today and the recovery mission ended with the successful goal of retrieving the three skiers.
The skiers were wearing beacons which enabled a successful identifiable location. They were buried in 20 plus feet of avalanche debris. Due to the rugged terrain and avalanche debris, a helicopter retrieval of the three skiers is now required. The next open window of weather permitting will allow the final step of this recovery mission to happen and complete this operation. The final step will be transferring the persons to the San Juan County Coroner’s office for positive identification.
PLEASE CONTINUE TO AVOID THE OPHIR PASS AREA. Avalanche danger in the backcountry is always unpredictable regardless of your avalanche knowledge and skills. It is critical to check the avalanche forecast and avalanche danger prior to venturing into the backcountry. Check the Colorado Avalanche Information Center (CAIC) for avalanche conditions, have your equipment of beacon, shovel, probe and make a plan for communications with your ski group.
Leadville Avalanche Forecast
Closer to home in the Sawatch Zone, the CAIC issued an updated avalanche conditions report at 6 a.m. this morning. “There is an Avalanche Warning for the Vail/Summit County, Sawatch, Aspen, and Gunnison zones. A foot or more of new snow and strong winds have combined to overload our fragile snowpack. Large, wide, and deadly avalanches will be very easy to trigger. Natural avalanches can run long distances. Backcountry travelers should stay off of, and out from underneath slopes steeper than 30 degrees.”
A foot of new snow and strong winds have combined to create very dangerous avalanche conditions for the northern half of the Sawatch zone. It will be easy to trigger large, wide and potentially deadly avalanches. The most dangerous places are open slopes near ridgetop where the wind continues to form thick slabs. Avoid traveling in avalanche terrain, especially around steep slopes that were recently wind loaded.
CAIC Sawatch Zone Report
There is little question that the avalanche danger will rise in the next 24 hours, to the point that backcountry travel will become very dangerous in the Gunnison and Aspen zones. However, the timing of the incoming storm has been difficult to nail down as weather models don’t agree on exactly when and where the most intense snow will fall. The general pattern for the Central Mountains is that snow will begin around mid-day Wednesday, intensifying through the afternoon and after dark. This means the peak avalanche instability will occur late during the upcoming 24-hour forecast period.
The avalanche danger in the West Elk and Elk Mountains, as well as the central and northern parts of the Sawatch Range, are expected to rise rapidly during the afternoon hours. Depending upon the precipitation type and intensity (yep, it’s already raining near Marble), there could be a big spread in avalanche danger around the Central Mountains today. By tonight as the storm reaches it’s peak and spreads northwards a widespread natural avalanche cycle is expected in the areas listed above.
The Grand Mesa snowpack is a mess, teetering on the brink of becoming dangerous. This storm may or may not provide enough precipitation to kick off an avalanche cycle there. Even if natural avalanche activity doesn’t begin to roll around the Grand Mesa, it will become easy for a person or snowmobile to trigger dangerous avalanches.
The southern Sawatch looks least favored for this storm, so this area will see the slowest rise in avalanche danger around the region. That said, expect an uptick in the chances to trigger avalanches, especially in wind-loaded features.