A major spring storm dumped more than a foot of snow through much of the Yampa Valley and caused havoc for motorists and residents as road conditions deteriorated rapidly Wednesday evening and power lines were snapped under the weight of heavy snow and fallen trees.
The National Weather Service's Grand Junction forecast office, which had initially forecast between 5 and 10 inches of snow for downtown Steamboat Springs, was forced to update its forecasts as a strong low pressure system caught meteorologists off guard.
"The storm system was anticipated to move rapidly out to the plains," meteorologist Jeff Colton said. "It's stalled and it's basically continuing to pump moisture into western Colorado. This low pressure system is a lot stronger than we were anticipating, and that caused (the storm) to slow down."
The National Weather Service had announced a winter storm warning for the Steamboat area early Wednesday evening after a winter storm advisory was in effect for much of the day. Accumulation easily surpassed 10 inches in much of the area by late afternoon. The winter storm warning called for accumulations up to 16 inches, a total also surpassed in many areas by early evening.
"Apparently I'm going to have to update that (prediction)," Colton said. "It's one of the biggest storms of the season by the looks of it."
Yampa Valley Electric Association reported multiple single power outages and two major outages in the Trout Creek and Seedhouse Road areas late Wednesday evening. Visibility was preventing crews from restoring power to those areas.
Ben Steiner, a resident at the corner of Spruce and Grand streets, was without power for more than five hours Wednesday. "(Yampa Valley Electric's) line was busy for a long time. There must have been a lot of people calling," Steiner said.
"The power company told me a tree fell on the line. There was a big bang outside my window, but I didn't see anything."
Between 200 and 300 customers were without electricity early Wednesday morning, including some Steamboat residents. Four crews dispatched throughout the area were able to restore power to most of the affected areas by mid-afternoon, Fief said.
Fief said outages are common during spring and fall storms, when heavy snow snaps lines and trees.
By late evening, five trees were reported down, some of them bringing down power lines, Steamboat Springs police Sgt. Nick Bosick said. A downed tree on a power line in Dream Island Mobile Home Community caused surrounding branches to smoke, but the snow put the fire out, Bosick said. Another tree forced the closure of Park Avenue and Larimer Street, but Bosick said that some property damage was likely.
Officers focused on clearing streets, Bosick said, but Wednesday's weather made a mess of road conditions, particularly at higher elevations, according to the Colorado Department of Transportation.
CDOT reported blowing snow, snow, slush, and icy and snow-packed spots on U.S. Highway 40 over Rabbit Ears Pass. Snow, slush and icy spots were reported on U.S. 40 between Steamboat and Craig.
Three accidents were reported in Steamboat on Wednesday night, one involving injuries. The Routt County Sheriff's Office said that also was the case in the county. "The weather is letting up, but traveling is still pretty poor," Sgt. Troy McDaniel said. "We've had a lot of vehicles off the roads and in ditches but there was minor damage and no injuries."
Routt County undersheriff Dan Taylor said traffic accidents plagued the county earlier in the day. "We covered accidents all day long," Taylor said.
Several afternoon accidents resulted in injuries; Taylor said he wasn't sure if there were any fatalities. A Steamboat Springs Transit bus slid off of U.S. 40 near Milner about 6 p.m.; no one was injured.
City crews were being called in to clear the roads early this morning, and safer conditions were expected.
Computer models showed the storm continuing to pound areas of northern Colorado, including Steamboat, with heavy snow past midnight Wednesday, eventually giving way to cloudy skies and scattered snow showers by this morning, Colton said.
Mountains in northern Colorado could see total storm accumulations of 1 to 3 feet, providing a needed boost to snowpack levels, Colton said. Hayden reported more than 14 inches of snow early Wednesday evening, and Oak Creek reported more than a foot.
Fed by Pacific moisture, the storm picked up added precipitation from the Gulf of Mexico as it wrapped around the northern portion of the state, Colton said.
The storm resembles the blizzard that walloped the Front Range several weeks ago, Colton said.
That storm, which dumped up to 7 feet of snow in some areas along the Front Range, was centered more to the south of the state than the storm that ripped through northern Colorado on Wednesday and into today, Colton said.