Pineapple Express hits Steamboat
Heavy snow to continue through Friday; flights affected at YVRA
December 21, 2010
Steamboat Springs — A Pacific storm called the Pineapple Express will continue to dump heavy on Steamboat Springs and create difficult travel conditions for much of the week. On Monday, the storm prevented some flights from landing at Yampa Valley Regional Airport and left area roads hard to navigate.
The snow is expected to continue through Friday morning. As much as 3 feet could fall by then on the slopes of Mount Werner and other areas of higher elevation in Northwest Colorado, National Weather Service meteorologist Jeff Colton said. The National Weather Service has issued a winter storm warning for the region through Thursday afternoon.
"There's a stream of moisture stretching from Hawaii to Colorado right now," Colton said. "A lot of people refer to it as the Pineapple Express because of where it's coming from."
The weather severely limited visibility at Yampa Valley Regional Airport in Hayden.
"It's a mess," assistant airport manager Dean Smith said Monday afternoon. "We have our hands full out there."
Smith said an American Airlines flight from Dallas and a Continental Airlines flight from Houston were able to land at YVRA early Monday, and two of the three daytime United Airlines flights from Denver made it to Hayden. Other good news was harder to find by the time he left the airport in the afternoon.
Smith said Frontier Airlines canceled a YVRA flight Monday while one United flight, a Delta Airlines flight and an American Airlines flight from Chicago were delayed or diverted.
Airport Manager Dave Ruppel said visibility was hit or miss in the blowing snow.
"The runway is in good condition. Everything's plowed," he said. "We're ready for (planes) to be here, but if they can't see, they can't land."
West Routt Fire Protection District Chief Bryan Rickman said accidents on West Routt roadways were minimal, though, as of the afternoon.
"We haven't had any calls at all," Rickman said Monday afternoon. "It's been very slow for us, which is great.
"People are understanding how bad the roads really are and are taking it slow," he continued.
The Weather Service's assessment of the storm Sunday called for 3 to 6 feet on Mount Werner this week, with a cold front that could stop the storm Wednesday, but Colton revised that forecast Monday from the Grand Junction office.
"In the Steamboat area, you're on the edge of the deepest moisture plume," he said. "You're not going to see the 6 to 8 feet that we're expecting down toward Crested Butte and those areas. …We've had reports already around Crested Butte of 30 to 50 inches in some areas."
The Weather Service storm warning stated the highest snow totals will occur well south of Steamboat, but the warning includes all of western Colorado and doesn't mince words.
"Heavy snowfall of epic proportions will continue and projections indicate that the storm will last through Thursday," it states. "Very moist and mild southwest-to-west flow will bring a prolonged period of heavy snow to the higher mountains of eastern Utah and western Colorado. Heavy snow accumulations are expected above 9,000 feet with the highest amounts on southwest- to west-facing slopes."
The warning advised that road closures could occur and urged caution while traveling.
"Traveling over the mountain passes will become nearly impossible at times," it states. "Plan on road closures and have alternative plans if the mountain passes do not stay open."
Colton noted that it snowed in Craig and Meeker for much of Monday, while rain fell in Aspen and Vail. But he said Steamboat will continue seeing one or the other well into Friday.
Colton said the high water content, heavy snow often is referred to as "Sierra Cement." But he said Northwest Colorado's temperatures could bring some Champagne Powder.
"You guys are a little bit colder, so you'll probably get a better quality of snow," Colton said.
This week's storm comes in time for the opening of Steamboat Ski Area's Pony Express lift, which is planned for Friday. Trails accessible by Pony Express, however, are open by hiking, ski area spokesman Mike Lane said.
Lane said as of today, 99.5 percent of the ski area's terrain is open. Lower Valley View and Yoo Hoo open today.
Holiday vacationers who make it to Steamboat Springs should have plenty of snow to enjoy on that new terrain.
"I'm looking on satellite and moisture is stretched all the way back into the Pacific, so it's not going to stop," Colton said.
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