Denver roundtrips only storm-caused casualty to flights at Yampa Valley Airport
Storm brings welcome moisture to high country
March 23, 2016
Steamboat Springs — For travelers attempting to leave Steamboat Springs for Denver on March 23, the best advice was to purchase a ski lift ticket and make the most of the snow. Denver International Airport was completely shut down by a spring blizzard, and even if one could have flown out of Denver, Interstate 70 was closed at mid-afternoon from Silverthorne on the western side of the Eisenhower/Johnson Tunnel over the other side to Georgetown.
Rabbit Ears Pass was snow-packed and icy, prompting the Colorado Department of Transportation to require that commercial vehicles use chains. The welcome news for irrigators and whitewater paddlers was that the spring snowfall was wet and heavy, contributing to the water stored on the Continental Divide that nourishes local rivers and streams into the summer.
Local weather observer and snow scientist Art Judson recorded 7.8 inches of snow, representing .89 inches of water, at his weather station between downtown Steamboat and the ski mountain. That converted to a density of 11 percent. For anyone recalling the light and fluffy snow that buried Steamboat in January, today's snowfall was a different animal.
"Wild snow is a density of less than 4 percent," Judson said, "Average winter new snow density in Steamboat is 7 percent, so today's density of 11 percent is above average, but it isn't high for a spring storm."
CDOT cited "adverse conditions and accidents" as the reason for closing I70. And even motorists thinking about an "end-run" from Steamboat to the Front Range via Laramie, Wyoming, were in for a bad news. Long stretches of Interstate 25 north to Fort Collins and the Wyoming state line were also closed.
All three roundtrip flights from Denver to Yampa Valley Regional Valley Airport were canceled, but flights to distant hub cities operated as usual. Conditions at YVRA, where 417 passengers were expected to arrive and 530 to depart, were listed as good Wednesday, and some flights arrived and turned back ahead of schedule.
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The daily roundtrip from Dallas arrived in the valley four minutes ahead of schedule, and the direct flight from Atlanta arrived 25 minutes ahead of schedule, departing just a few minutes behind schedule. It was a similar story for flights from Houston and Atlanta, with flights from Chicago and Los Angeles on United Airlines just a few minutes behind schedule.
Adding up to a ski season of abundance
The Steamboat Ski area tallied 14.5 inches in the 24 hours preceding the Wednesday morning report, bringing season snowfall at mid-mountain to 335.25 inches. That puts the ski area within easy reach of the best snowfall numbers in five years. Based on the weather forecast, Steamboat should eclipse the 335.5 inches recorded for the entire 2012/2013 season later this week.
The National Weather Service in Grand Junction is calling for a significant chance of snow through Friday, with a slight chance of showers Saturday before sunshine returns for Easter Sunday.
NWS meteorologist Jeff Colton expects snow accumulations to remain light Thursday before a more serious storm arrives Friday with the potential for heavy snow. That storm is expected to sink south to the I-70 corridor by Friday, Colton predicted.
On the valley floor, a weather station located 1.2 miles southeast of the city, which participates with the Community Collaborative Rain, Hail and Snow network, or COCoRaHS, recorded 8.2 inches of snow, representing .9 inches of precipitation. That same weather station has recorded 2.23 inches of precipitation in the past 16 days.
The recent storm added to the snowpack on nearby Rabbit Ears and Buffalo passes. The snow depth on Rabbit Ears is 76 inches, and the 29.2 inches of water stored in that snowpack is 128 percent of median. The snow at the Tower measuring site on Buffalo Pass is 104 inches deep, but the water stored there is only 85 percent of median.