The weather outside Wednesday was “treacherous,” as one National Weather Service forecaster put it, especially in the Telluride region, where over two feet of snow fell over the area.
Telluride Ski Resort reported 32 inches of new snowfall Wednesday and Thursday; 58 inches over the past week. With 337 inches so far this season, it’s safe to say that this will be a record-breaking winter as the resort’s all-time snowfall record is 341 inches. Telluride may have received the most snowfall Wednesday, but the storm affected the tri-county area and beyond.
That’s what “bomb cyclones” do, according to Kris Sanders, forecaster at the National Weather Service’s Grand Junction office. A bomb cyclone, or bombogenesis as those in the biz call it, occurs when there’s a sudden drop in barometric pressure — a decrease of at least 24 millibars (which measures atmospheric pressure) over 24 hours, to be exact, Sanders explained. The recent cyclone was “pretty expansive,” he said, hitting parts of northern Arizona, eastern Utah, Colorado, western Nebraska, Wyoming and southern Montana.
While the storm produced an epic powder day, traveling throughout San Miguel County was difficult. The Sheriff’s Office issued a travel warning Wednesday morning “strongly” discouraging motorists from braving the roads. Lizard Head Pass between Rico and Telluride was closed due to the conditions and avalanche danger most of the day, reopening Wednesday night. David Averill, San Miguel Authority for Regional Transportation (SMART) executive director, said the Rico commuter van made it into town Wednesday morning, but it was delayed in returning. Telluride’s town and Lawson Hill Galloping Goose loops were running on time Wednesday, according to transit manager Jason White.
“We understand the importance of reliability so it’s our highest priority to get everyone safely to where they need to be,” he said.
A downed power line closed Highway 145 in both directions for approximately two hours at the bottom of Norwood Hill around 10 a.m. Wednesday. Sawpit and Placerville experienced afternoon power outages, according to San Miguel Power Association officials; it was restored by 1:30 p.m. Wednesday. The towns of Mountain Village and Telluride lost power for just over an hour around 2 p.m., due to a fallen tree on a power line in the Ilium area. After power was restored, internet service was spotty, causing several businesses to put up “cash only” signs; others closed for the day.
The Telluride School District cancelled classes Wednesday and Thursday, a rare occurrence.
“I drove multiple roadways and after conferring with transportation, looking at moisture content and the forecast made the call for (Wednesday),” Superintendent Mike Gass said in a message to staff and district parents Wednesday. “The moisture has definitely added a risk element that will make travel and safety very challenging based on my drive this morning.”
The Norwood School District was also closed Wednesday; the Ridgway, Ouray and Montrose districts all held classes without delay.
A natural slide early Wednesday morning closed Ophir Road as crews worked throughout the day to clear the area. No injuries were reported. Avalanche work, including bombing and clearing, was done Thursday afternoon, but there were no plans to reopen the road as of press time.
The Town of Telluride closed the Bridal Veil Falls area in the east end of town to local traffic only due to avalanche danger Wednesday.
Weather in the City of Ouray, Sanders said, was similar to Telluride’s Wednesday as the area received a foot of snow.
“It’s an interesting spot for them because when the wind switches around to the northwest the wind gets funneled into the canyon and they get an enhancement of snowfall,” he said.
The Town of Ridgway received around eight inches; the City of Montrose may have received an inch, Sanders said, thanks to temperatures in the 40s Wednesday afternoon.
Sanders said the area will experience an extended dry spell through the weekend and into next week with temperatures in the low 40s early next week. The warmth may cause flooding, the Town of Telluride warned.
Red Mountain Pass between Ouray and Silverton will remain closed “indefinitely” after over 60 feet of snow covered the roadway as a result of recent mitigation work, according to the Colorado Department of Transportation.
The Colorado Avalanche Information Center issued avalanche warnings for the northern and southern San Juan Mountains Wednesday.
“Natural and human-triggered avalanches are very likely,” the center said. “They could break hundreds or thousands of feet wide and run to valley floors. Avalanches are impacting lower elevations and locations that have not seen avalanche activity in recent years. A potent storm with wet, heavy snow and strong shifting winds will keep avalanche conditions dangerous.”