Steamboat Springs Tuesday was the first official day of winter, but the calendar was just playing catch-up with Mother Nature. Today promises a potentially messy mix of rain and snow, with a massive Pacific storm system expected to continue to impact the Steamboat Springs area through Thursday.
The precipitation was all snow Tuesday, and it continued to create issues for airline passengers and motorists.
On Monday, at least two flights into Yampa Valley Regional Airport were delayed and two were diverted to Denver. On Tuesday, Airport Manager Dave Ruppel said the weather in Hayden had cleared up enough for most flights to land.
Because of low visibility Monday, one flight from Atlanta and another from Chicago that were scheduled to land at YVRA were diverted to Denver where passengers were put on a shuttle to Steamboat. Two United Airlines flights from Denver were canceled, and other flights experienced delays.
However, by midday Tuesday, Ruppel said the cloud ceiling had lifted and it was no longer snowing in Hayden.
“They should be able to land fine,” Ruppel said. “It’s looking great out there right now. But it always changes. Like they say, if you don’t like the weather, wait an hour.”
Steamboat Ski Area has reported 3 feet of snow in the past seven days, and the city of Steamboat has received about 2 feet. A winter storm warning for Steamboat Springs is set to expire at 9 a.m. today.
The National Weather Service in Grand Junction anticipates the snow to change to rain late this morning before transitioning back to snow late tonight. The precipitation is expected to taper off Thursday. The sun could make its first appearance in more than a week just in time for Christmas.
Art Judson, an unofficial weather observer for the National Weather Service, said he’s logged 18 inches of snow at his home on Anglers Drive since Friday.
The National Resource and Conservation Center, which runs SNOTEL data sites, recorded 55 inches atop Buffalo Pass in the same amount of time.
And this isn’t any Champagne Powder, Judson said. The snow at his house is about 11 percent water; Steamboat averages about 7 percent.
The heavy, wet snow means significant changes to this year’s above-average snowpack.
The Colorado Avalanche Information Center has issued an avalanche warning for all of Western Colorado, including the Steamboat zone. On Tuesday, avalanche forecaster Brian Lazar wrote that backcountry travelers should avoid avalanche terrain.
Judson, a former avalanche forecaster, said although deeper snowpacks are safer in the long run, large amounts of heavy snow can create dangerous storm slabs and put added pressure on buried weak layers.
“This snowpack in the last few days has gotten deep very quickly and that adds a lot of stress,” Judson said. The backcountry “is definitely not safe right now.”
The current storm is adding inches to what has been a fast start to the season for Steamboat Ski Area.
SNOTEL reports the snowpack about 6 miles north of Steamboat Ski Area at about 170 percent of average as of Tuesday.
Judson, who’s been monitoring snow in the area for 50 years, said the amount of snow that’s fallen this season isn’t the norm. And neither is the several feet of wet snow that has fallen this week.
“This is one of the biggest storms we’ve had in a long time,” Judson said. “For water amount, it’s really big.”
“And it’s not over.”
Weather conditions cause accidents, road closures
Interstate 70 was closed for multiple hours Tuesday afternoon from Silverthorne to the Eisenhower and Johnson tunnels after a tanker truck spilled an estimated 1,000 pounds of liquid blasting agent. The accident occurred at about 3 p.m. and a specialized Colorado State Patrol hazardous materials team responded to the scene.
It was the second haz-mat crash in that area Tuesday. Earlier, a tanker carrying 2,500 gallons of magnesium chloride overturned underneath the interstate at Colorado Highway 9 and U.S. Highway 6.
Colorado Highway 14 over Cameron Pass closed Monday night because of an avalanche. The Colorado Department of Transportation anticipates the highway to remain closed in both directions until this afternoon, at the very earliest.
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