Snow causes accidents on Rabbit Ears Pass

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— A Tuesday afternoon rainstorm that changed to sleet and snow caused several accidents near Rabbit Ears Pass, leaving some motorists and their vehicles in shoulder lanes and ditches.

"It was crazy up there," Routt County Undersheriff Dan Taylor said. "But what we saw was pretty typical for a beginning of the year snowfall."

"We had some vehicles off to the side of the road and a semi that had experienced some mechanical failure, but that's what we usually see in these conditions. We're reminded how to drive again," said Colorado State Patrol Trooper Brett Hilling, who responded to several of the accidents.

Hilling said the road conditions on U.S. Highway 40 from mile marker 142 to 156 were the worst. Conditions were "awful" because the rain and snow quickly turned to ice. Most of the accidents were the result of drivers traveling too fast for the conditions, he said.

No injuries or vehicle damage was reported.

The driving rain and sleet that fell throughout much of the county Tuesday didn't create the same problems. Taylor said he didn't know about any weather-related accidents besides those on the pass.

"The weather just turned instantly," Taylor said. "It was really slick up there."

Jeff Colton, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Grand Junction, said 2 to 6 inches of snow fell in some areas in and around Steamboat Springs.

"A lot of the mountain areas were hit by this storm, but Steamboat Springs was definitely hit the hardest," Colton said. Only a minimal amount of snow fell in the valley's lower elevations.

The storm was the result of a powerful cold front that cooled Pacific Northwest moisture and caused temperatures to decrease 20 to 30 degrees within hours. The storm was typical for this time of year, Colton said.

"Absolutely, we expect to see this in October. This is normal to see around this time," he said. "I wouldn't have been surprised to see this in September."

National Weather Service met--eorologists are watching another potentially powerful storm expected to move into the area Sunday or Monday. That storm could be similar to Tuesday's, though Colton said he expects the San Juan Mountains in Southwest Colorado to bear the brunt of it.

"You might see some showers on Monday, but the big stuff won't come until Tuesday," he said.

Steamboat Springs Street and Fleet Superintendent Doug Marsh said the minimal snowfall that fell in the city did not concern him because it did not stick to streets.

Marsh said he doesn't start worrying about snow removal until Halloween, when the temperatures cause the snow to stick to roadways and accumulate.

"It's our job to get ready for this stuff," he said.

But just in case early winter storms continue to hit the area, Marsh put sanders onto two dump trucks yesterday. The city uses four sand trucks and five snowplows to clear snow from city streets.

"Right now, we're in pretty good shape," Marsh said.

With more winter storms looming in the near future, Hilling warned drivers to be aware of their surroundings and to not speed, particularly when visibility is poor and roads are wet, icy or snowy. Drivers should take similar precautions even when traveling on sanded or plowed streets.

Hilling also recommended that people prepare for winter by replacing worn tires with all-terrain or snow tires.

"If you go up on the pass with bald tires, you're just asking for trouble," he said.

The Colorado Department of Transportation recommends that drivers carry emergency equipment such as blankets, flashlights, shovels and food. CDOT also recommends that drivers keep their gas tanks full and reminds motorists that four-wheel-drive vehicles do not stop faster or better in icy conditions than other vehicles.

-- To reach Alexis DeLaCruz, call 871-4234 or e-mail adelacruz@steamboatpilot.com

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