Snowed in |

Snowed in

More winter weather in store for Steamboat Springs

Mike McCollum

A coal train crosses Fifth Street at the entrance to Howelsen Park on a snowy Sunday afternoon. The National Weather Service in Grand Junction on Sunday predicted between 12 and 18 inches of snow would fall in Steamboat Springs by midnight today, with 2 to 3 feet accumulating in the mountains.

— Ace at the Curve hardware employees have had a difficult time keeping snow removal equipment in stock this winter. Today’s expected weather won’t help.

Steamboat Springs and surrounding areas are under a winter storm warning until midnight tonight, and when it’s all said and done, another 12 to 18 inches of snow could be added to what’s quickly becoming a historic winter in terms of snowfall.

That means it might be time for Ace employees to phone in the next shipment of shovels and ice melt.

“We haven’t been able to get any snowblowers in because the demand is so high that even the warehouse hasn’t been able to get any in stock,” Ace employee Kelli Herman said Sunday. “Ice picks, shovels and ice melt – we order more as soon as we get some in because we run out so fast.”

The National Weather Service predicts 12 to 18 inches of “heavy, fluffy snow” in city limits by the time the storm passes through the region late tonight or early Tuesday. The mountains could see between 2 and 3 feet of snow.

“This is a big storm. It’s going to snow through Monday and into Monday night, before improving quite quickly Tuesday,” said Chris Couco, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Grand Junction. “The snow will come back on Wednesday but not as strong.”

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Couco said he expects wind gusts of 30 mph south of Steamboat. The gusts could create areas of blowing and drifting snow, particularly near the town of Yampa.

“At the mountain base area, we think winds will reach up to 15 mph,” he said.

The snow is continued good news for skiers and riders. The Steamboat Ski Area surpassed the 300-inch mark of mid-mountain snow last week, and depending on this storm’s yield, season-to-date snowfall could surpass the historical average of 331 inches. The ski area reported 324 inches of cumulative season-to-date snowfall Sunday. It has snowed on the slopes of Mount Werner 80 percent of the days since Nov. 21, according to the ski area. Thirty-two of those days brought 4 or more inches of snow.

The ski area reported the third-snowiest December on record (126 inches) and the second-snowiest January on record (129 inches). For just the third time in ski area history, there were more than 100 inches of snow in December and January of the same ski season. All this is after a mild fall that forced a week and a half delay in the ski area’s opening.

The abundant snow also has created problems, particularly for the snow removal budgets of local governments and homeowner associations. City of Steamboat officials said last week that snowplow drivers are working long shifts and collected nearly 1,000 hours of overtime in the two-week pay period ending Jan. 19.

Snow also brought headaches to many motorists last week when whiteout conditions forced the temporary closure of U.S. Highway 40 from the Utah border east to Rabbit Ears Pass. Although no injuries were reported, the commutes of hundreds of drivers were delayed by as long as four and five hours along U.S. 40 and Colorado Highway 131. Dozens of vehicles slid off roadways.

The National Weather Service advises against highway travel for the duration of today’s storm.

According to the winter storm warning, “Many highways will have closure, and it’s highly recommended to check road conditions before departing. If you do not need to travel, then stay home. If you travel, expect snow covered and icy conditions everywhere during the next 24 hours.

“If you are planning travel through the mountains of Eastern Utah or Western Colorado, be prepared for extremely poor travel conditions. Mountain passes will be icy and snowpacked with poor visibilities from blowing snow. Be sure to pack a winter survival kit in your vehicle if you must travel.”

Routt County Emergency Management Director Chuck Vale said motorists should always travel with blankets, gloves, an emergency medical kit, a shovel, flashlights and spare batteries, along with enough food and water to survive for up to 72 hours.

“You need to have enough to hunker down to survive for up to 72 hours until services are able to reach you,” he said. “People should be prepared to take care of themselves. It makes it easier on emergency services.”

“Of course it snows in Northwest Colorado a lot, but wind is our real problem,” he said. “(The Colorado Department of Transportation) and county road crews do a good job of removing the snow. I don’t anticipate those kind of problems in this storm unless we get high winds : but I advise everyone who will be traveling to be prepared for an emergency.”

Heavy snowfall also has put roof strength to the test. Engineers warn that the weight over the heads of homeowners could cause significant damage.Cracked drywall and garage doors that won’t open are signs that heavy loads are putting structural pressure on buildings. The stress may result in the need for expensive repairs, while some buildings, unable to shoulder the load, could collapse under the enormous weight.