Steamboat Springs Wednesday night's storm could signal the beginning of a good ski season in Steamboat Springs.
Joe Ramey, a National Weather Service meteorologist in Grand Junction, said Thursday that another storm is expected to dump more snow on the area this weekend. And although that snow will melt by early next week, Routt County residents should keep their shovels handy in the coming months.
Despite National Weather Service reports in September that predicted above-average temperatures and average precipitation for the Steamboat area through February, Ramey said Routt County could be in store for a winter similar to that of 2005-06.
"We are heading into a La NiÃ±a winter, which bodes well for Steamboat Springs. Our studies indicate that the area should get hit with lots of snow in December and early January like it did two years ago," he said. "That's what we're hoping for."
More than 400 inches of snow fell on the Steamboat Ski Area in the winter of 2005-06. It was the fourth snowiest winter on record for the ski area.
Winter could begin to settle in this weekend, Ramey said.
"The beginnings of the next system already is following on the storm's heels," Ramey said. "The clouds already are moving in."
Ramey said a Pacific cold front should settle over the Yampa Valley on Saturday and drop temperatures into the low teens.
"This one packs a punch," he said. "It looks like the first taste of winter."
Wednesday's snow squall was the fifth Pacific storm that has hit Colorado since mid-September. It dropped about 2 inches of snow on the region and could be blamed for sending three drivers off the road along Colorado Highway 131 near Oak Creek.
Chain laws were in effect Wednesday night on Rabbit Ears Pass, which closed at about 8:30 p.m. after several trucks got stuck in the snow, said Stacey Stegman, a spokeswoman for the Colorado Department of Transportation.
"We had to close it because there were numerous semitrailers spinning out, getting stuck and having difficulty traveling in the adverse weather," she said.
The pass reopened by 11:30 p.m. Wednesday, she said.
Although none of the accidents was serious, the season's first blustery storm has police warning drivers to remember that winter driving requires patience - and brakes.
"The biggest thing we tell people about driving in inclement weather is to slow down," Colorado State Patrol Sgt. Scott Elliott said Thursday. "People think it's OK to do 55 or 60 mph on a sheet of ice because that's the speed limit, but sometimes you need to be going 35 mph if that's the safest speed."
Steamboat Springs police Capt. Joel Rae agreed.
"It's the same old story of being aware that road conditions may be slicker than they appear," he said. "People need to leave early and allow themselves plenty of time to drive slowly and safely to get to their destination in one piece without any new dents in their car."
There were no weather-related car accidents reported in Steamboat Springs on Wednesday or Thursday, Rae said.
In addition to hitting the brakes, police recommend drivers leave plenty of room between the cars in front of them while driving.
"Back off and give yourself space," Elliott said. "People should abide by the 'Two-Second Rule,' or give yourself one car length of space for every 10 mph you're traveling. That rule should be doubled in bad weather."
State Patrol Trooper Tonya Cowan spent six hours on Rabbit Ears Pass on Wednesday and described U.S. Highway 40 as "bitter."
"Road conditions were not ideal," she said. "It was extremely overcast; there was fog; there was wind; it was blowing snow. The roads were very slushy, very slippery and icy.
"It was pretty bad," she continued. "The whole storm ripped through and created a lot of havoc."
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