Powerful gusts cause damage around Steamboat, shut down ski area
December 1, 2011
Steamboat Springs — High winds in Steamboat Springs on Thursday mangled roofs, broke door hinges, uprooted trees and shut down Steamboat Ski Area.
“All in all, considering the severity of the winds, we came out all right and no one was hurt,” Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp. spokesman Mike Lane wrote Thursday in an email giving the preliminary damage report for the ski area. The ski area opened at its usual time of 8:30 a.m. today.
There were no injuries reported anywhere in Steamboat, where damage was citywide. Perhaps the most costly damage was at Spring Meadows condominiums, where a large section of roof was torn off the multi-unit residential building. The wind knocked down power lines in various parts of the city, but only about 100 households were without electricity early in the day. Power had been restored through the area by Thursday afternoon, Yampa Valley Electric Association officials said.
Routt County Director of Emergency Management Bob Struble said he wasn’t aware of any wind-related incidents or damage outside the city of Steamboat.
Lane said the winds at the ski area first picked up at about midnight, and at 6:10 a.m. Thursday a gauge on Tower 30 near Thunderhead registered a gust of 100 mph. One hour later, it measured the peak gust of 123 mph. At 9:30 a.m., the tower reported sustained winds of about 30 mph and gusts just over 70 mph, Lane said.
Steamboat Springs weather observer Art Judson reported wind gusts of 40 to 57 mph at locations across Steamboat Springs.
Ski area officials said the winds spread debris across numerous ski trails. Lane said the resort's priority was to clear as many as 20 trees that fell on trails already open for the season. Ski Corp. crews then will clear an undetermined number of trees that fell on terrain that hasn't yet opened to skiers and riders.
Lane said it appeared the strongest winds hit the areas of the Surprise, Flat Out and So What trails.
The canopy and outdoor bar cart at the Bear River Bar & Grill were damaged in addition to shingles on the ski school building and Thunderhead. The winds snapped the 4-by-4-inch posts of two large trail signs.
It is unknown how widespread the damage might be in the forest outside of the ski area.
"In terms of a big, widespread blowdown, we're not aware of anything yet, but it's early," said
Kent Foster, recreation manager for the U.S. Forest Service's Hahn's Peak/Bears Ears Ranger District.
What caused the wind
National Weather Service meteorologist Jim Daniels said the wind storm was the result of strong mountain-top-level winds that trailed a cold front colliding with an existing layer of stable mountain-top-level air. The combination of the two created strong downslope winds.
Flatter areas of Northwest Colorado, including Craig and Meeker, experienced much milder winds Thursday.
"It was pretty strong winds across Northwest Colorado, but there were those favored areas," Daniels said.
Daniels said the winds were reminiscent of conditions that often occur along the Front Range. The northeasterly flow of the storm system that brought significant snowfall to the Front Range on Thursday — and virtually no snow to Northwest Colorado — turned the tables on the Western Slope, creating strong winds there instead of on the other side of the Continental Divide.
Other hard-hit areas
Yampa Valley Regional Airport Assistant Manager Dean Smith said the airport just west of Hayden experienced gusts of 30 to 40 mph. Because the wind didn't blow laterally across the runway, planes were able to land without issue.
“We had no significant impact at this airport at all due to weather,” Smith said.
That was not the case on the west side of the city at Steamboat Springs Airport, where gusts of 60 mph were measured.
“I can’t think of anyone that would have tried to fly an airplane in the wind we had today," airport Manager Mel Baker said.
The winds awakened many Steamboat residents during the night, but the damage was not apparent until morning.
Steamboat Springs Police Sgt. Scott Middleton said residents at Spring Meadows reported the roof coming off at about 7 a.m. A portion of the roof blew into a neighboring condo complex, smashing several windows, Middleton said. Some of the roof came to rest on a pickup in the parking lot.
Middleton said officers were busy Thursday responding to other reports of downed trees and roof damage. Two trees toppled into Herbage condo units, and a tree blew down across Burgess Creek Road. Roof damage also was reported at the Villas at Walton Creek condo complex and the Terraces at Eagleridge, where windows also were broken.
A tree fell onto the deck of a condo unit at the Cascades at Eagleridge along Walton Creek Road, and another tree blocked a street in the neighborhood.
In Old Town Steamboat, resident Jim Tholson said he was looking out his window when a giant evergreen next to his Missouri Street home toppled into the street.
“I was sitting at my computer in my front room and checking the wind gusts on WeatherBug when I saw a gust of 60 mph, and then I watched the tree fall down in slow motion,” he said.
Marlin Barad, the owner of the Missouri Street property where the tree fell, said losing the tree is like losing a friend.
“I’m just sick that tree is gone,” she said. “It was there 30 years ago when we bought the house. That’s like losing an old friend. We take care of our trees. We spray them. We feed them.”
The winds should be much calmer Friday, with the National Weather Service calling for sunny skies and a high of 36 degrees. Winds will be about 5 mph from the southwest.
There's a 40 percent chance of snow Friday night and Saturday, with a low of 16 degrees and a high Saturday of 26 degrees. Winds will be between 5 and 15 mph.