Record-tying low temperature for Feb. 2 hits Steamboat
Weather affects ranchers, mail carriers and more
Steamboat Springs — When Clark rancher Doug Carlson rose from bed Wednesday morning and saw that the needle on the MJK Sales & Feed thermometer registered 38 degrees below zero, his first instinct was to look after the 220 expectant mothers in his care. But first he had to get the tractor started.
People all across Routt County were busily preparing themselves for the Sub Zero Bowl Round II on Wednesday afternoon. The National Weather Service in Grand Junction was predicting that Wednesday’s official low in Steamboat Springs of 36 degrees below zero would be followed by an overnight low of 23 degrees below zero this morning.
“It was so cold it hurt,” said Mark Cox, of the Bridgestone Winter Driving School.
He was standing in front of a video camera at Steamboat Ski Area at 5:30 a.m., giving a live interview about winter driving tips for ABC’s “Good Morning America.”
For the rest of Steamboat, another day of sub-zero weather meant buying heating tape for frozen water pipes, adding gasoline additive to the tanks of their vehicles and installing a couple of additional carbon monoxide detectors in homes with balky furnaces.
Preparing for a second day of cold weather on the ranch also meant chopping thick ice out of troughs and creeks that cattle depend on for water, and starting the tractor to ensure that pregnant cows got their breakfast.
Carlson and his wife, Adele, are beginning their 27th year of ranching on the Stranahan property along Routt County Road 62 outside Clark.
Carlson fed his 300 head of cattle an extra 5 to 10 pounds of hay Tuesday morning to provide the energy they needed to thrive in the cold. If the tractor hadn’t started, Carlson would have turned to a neighbor later in the morning.
“The cows are due to calve in late March,” he said. “They’re in good shape, but I would do everything I could to make sure they got fed.”
Carlson said he’s seen colder weather, like the day in early February 1985 when the temperature at the ranch was lower than 50 degrees below zero.
Art Judson, unofficial cooperative weather observer for the National Weather Service, corroborated Carlson’s memory. He said Steamboat saw a temperature reading of 44 degrees below zero on Feb. 1, 1985. However, the all-time coldest temperature reported in Steamboat was 54 degrees below zero on Jan. 7, 1913, Judson said.
Steamboat’s low temperature of minus 36 Wednesday tied the record for Feb. 2, set in 1956. In Yampa, the low of 35 degrees below zero set a new record for Feb. 2, breaking the previous record of minus 24, set in 1985.
Wednesday’s frigid weather was predictably tough on cars; morning rush hour on Lincoln Avenue appeared normal, but few cars were parked on the street at 8:30 a.m., except at restaurants specializing in breakfast.
Cooper Barnett said he was 90 minutes late for work even though his big diesel pickup started right up.
“It purred like a kitten,” Barnett said, “but when I idled at the stoplight (at Trafalgar Drive and U.S. 40) I heard a bad sound and thought, ‘Oh, that doesn’t sound good.’”
Barnett surmised that the diesel in his tank had gelled in the cold.
“I just heard from the towing company,” he said ruefully. “I’ll plug it in tonight and charge the battery, and it should be fine.”
Cox said cold conditions typically result in improved traction on the road because they prevent the formation of a film of water on the surface that can cause skidding. However, it’s another matter when conditions get this cold, Cox said. He advised extra caution in corners, on acceleration and deceleration lanes and at stoplights.
“When it gets really cold, you see a bigger differential between the open road and places where it tends to get slick. The places where it gets tricky are places where people stop a lot,” Cox said. “Hundreds of vehicles going around the same corner really polishes (the ice). And the heat coming off engines and exhaust pipes creates that film of water that refreezes.”
Scott Schlapkohl, general manager of Ace at the Curve, said his store was doing a brisk business in space heaters, portable baseboard heaters and foam pipe insulation.
Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp. spokesman Mike Lane said ski area employees were watching for signs of frostbite among the brave souls who made turns Wednesday on Mount Werner.
“Lift operators are trained to keep an eye out for frostbite on guests and each other at all lifts and will definitely make individuals aware,” Lane said.
The skiing forecast for the weekend is better, with a chance of snow Saturday and Sunday and highs of 30 degrees.
Of course, the mail must go through, no matter the weather, and contract mail delivery person Dwight Willman was standing bareheaded while sorting mail into a neighborhood cluster box at about 11 a.m. Wednesday when the temperature was 19 degrees below zero.
“It’s my hands that bother me the most,” Willman said. “Fairview is the coldest place on my route. I don’t know what it is. The wind just seems to come through there.”
By the numbers
Steamboat Springs’ low temperature of minus 36 Wednesday tied the record for Feb. 2, set in 1956. In Yampa, the low of minus 35 set a new record for Feb. 2, breaking the previous record of minus 24, set in 1985.
■ Wednesday morning’s low temperatures across Colorado:
Steamboat Springs: -36
Colorado Springs: -12
■ Colorado record low: minus 61 on Feb. 1, 1985, in Maybell
■ Steamboat Springs record lows from 1893 to 2011:
1. -54 on Jan. 7, 1913
2. 50 on Jan. 12, 1963
3. -48 on Feb. 10, 1933
4. -46 on Jan. 13, 1963
5. -44 on Feb. 1, 1985
5. -44 on Feb. 1, 1951
5. -44 on Feb. 18, 1942
5. -44 on Jan. 22, 1937
5. -44 on Jan. 20, 1922
5. -44 on Dec. 18, 1909
■ Steamboat Springs record lows from 1893 to 2011 in December:
1. -44 on Dec. 18, 1909
2. -39 on Dec. 25, 1924
3. -38 on Dec. 13, 1932
4. -37 on Dec. 22, 1990
4. -37 on Dec. 24, 1924
6. -36 on Dec. 8, 1978
6. -36 on Dec. 26, 1962
8. -35 on Dec. 24, 1990
8. -35 on Dec. 28, 1916
10. -34 on Dec. 8, 2005
■ Steamboat Springs record lows from 1893 to 2011 in January:
1. -54 on Jan. 7, 1913
2. -50 on Jan. 12, 1963
3. -46 on Jan. 13, 1963
4. -44 on Jan. 22, 1937
4. -44 on Jan. 20, 1922
6. -43 on Jan. 10, 1962
7. -42 on Jan. 6, 1913
8. -40 on Jan. 11, 1962
8. -40 on Jan. 19, 1940
8. -40 on Jan. 9, 1930
■ Steamboat Springs record lows from 1893 to 2011 in February:
1. -48 on Feb. 10, 1933
2. -44 on Feb. 1, 1985
2. -44 on Feb. 1, 1951
2. -44 on Feb. 18, 1942
5. -42 on Feb. 6, 1989
6. -41 on Feb. 6, 1982
7. -40 on Feb. 9, 1929
8. -39 on Feb. 28, 1962
9. -38 on Feb. 19, 1942
10. -37 on Feb. 7, 1989
Source: National Weather Service
— To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205 or e-mail tross@SteamboatToday.com
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