Weather

Colorado Department of Transportation crews work on U.S. Highway 550, clearing extensive avalanche debris on Red Mountain Pass. With more snow on the way, it is unknown when the pass will reopen. (Photo courtesy CDOT)

Human beings care a lot about the weather and for good reason. What Mother Nature delivers nourishes us and sustains our species. And, as evidenced by the string of tornadoes that recently raced across parts of Alabama, it can kill us. We all can name countless weather events that have wrought devastation, or, in the case of this abundant winter of 2018-19, have brought badly needed moisture to a region still considered to be in a drought.

Compared to last winter, when the skies were stingy and the precipitation was scant, this year has skiers ecstatic, plow drivers busy and travelers on high alert. Snow is on the forecast yet again — as of press time Tuesday, the NOAA National Weather Service was calling for a chance of snow beginning later in the evening.

On the mountain, conditions are stellar. Telluride Ski Resort is currently reporting 274 inches for the season with 29 new inches in the last week. The base is a sumptuous 82 inches. According to On The Snow website, which records Telluride snow history, last year’s average base was 31 inches, largely thanks to the Herculean efforts of the resort’s snowmaking crews. The most productive snowstorm of the 2017-18 ski season was a late March event that left behind 12 inches.

As much as snow is welcomed in ski country, it can prove challenging for travelers. On Sunday, a natural avalanche that cascaded onto I-70 in Ten Mile Canyon between Frisco and Copper Mountain startled motorists. Video captured of the slide showed vehicles consumed in a plume of snow. No injuries were reported. Tuesday, crews were conducting avalanche mitigation work in areas between Vail and Georgetown, resulting in closures of nearly 40 miles of highway.

Closer to home, a tour bus operating without chains found it impossible to navigate Main Street as snow fell heavily Sunday night. The bus slid nearly perpendicular to the road for a half a block, coming to rest against a centerline snow bank and damaging a parked vehicle. The driver was cited for careless driving. There were no injuries. On Monday, a food delivery truck wallowed in deep slush and thick ice in an alley and had to be extricated with a tow truck.

Local street crews have been kept busy with the steady wave of storms this winter, according to the Town of Telluride’s Street Supervisor Rich Estes. Compared to last year, there is more of everything — like magnesium chloride, the substance used to help snow and ice melt on the spur.

“Last year we applied 15,000 gallons of mag throughout the winter,” Estes said. “This year we expect to use 25,000 to 30,000 gallons if we stay in the weather pattern we are now in.”

While there is always something to do in a typical street crew workday, having a steady string of snowstorms with which to contend alters the daily checklist.

“We are considerably busier with snow removal this year as compared to 2018,” Estes said. “With the dry winter last year we kept busy with cleaning and maintaining the streets.”

And, no, they won’t run out of places to put the snow. According to Estes, the storage area behind the Public Works facility on Black Bear Road is almost limitless. “We do not expect to run out of space for the snow storage. We can always go higher with our pile at Public Works.”

Estes’ crews are currently readying for the next pile-on of inclement weather. Meteorologists say it’s coming.

Jeff Givens is an amateur weather forecaster out of Durango with a large following.

“My predictions are based on the same weather models the National Weather Service uses,” Givens said. “I apply my experience with the local terrain to try to produce an accurate localized forecast.”

While he is based out of Durango and his reports focus on results there, many of the same storms he tracks end up affecting San Miguel County, particularly in the east end. He has a dedicated following — his website, durangoweatherguy.com reported 203,000 page views and 74,000 visitors in February. More than 9,000 Facebook users follow his page, Durango Snow Lovers-Durango’s Weather by Jeff Givens.

This next round of storms, he wrote in his latest blog will be warm, moisture-bearing events. “The last one and the next one are what we used to refer to as the Pineapple Express,” he said. “(They’re) far-reaching plumes of subtropical warm moisture that come onshore and work their way into our area.”

His forecasts are followed not only by recreationists, but also by government officials who rely on his predictions. He talks as much about making travel plans based on the weather as he does about precipitation levels.

“I talk about travel impacts frequently because people rely on me for it,” Givens said. “A number of the CDOT plow drivers follow me as do city and county managers and people with the school districts. I post links to each update on the Facebook page and there are always people asking me about traveling.”

For this next wave of storms, both Givens and the NWS are calling for precipitation to begin Tuesday night. The NWS predicts it will strengthen through today (Wednesday) into Thursday, ease up a bit Thursday night and then on Friday, another storm will pulse through the area.

Why does tracking the weather matter? For Givens it’s about recreation and travel.

“I think what fascinates people about the weather varies by their location,” he said. “In southwest Colorado weather affects our recreational activities year-round and in the winter it affects our freedoms by closing passes.”