Steamboat Springs Winds gusting to 40 miles per hour in the valley Monday and reaching 54 miles per hour on top of Mount Werner forced many of the ski lifts at Steamboat Ski Area to close by mid-afternoon and resulted in all but one flight at Yampa Valley Regional Airport to be either canceled or diverted to Denver.
Assistant Airport Manager Dean Smith said it was the direction of the wind, gusting almost perpendicularly to the runways, that created the problem.
“There are no planes landing out here today,” Smith said. “The wind is blowing 42 to 51 miles per hour, and it’s blowing between 80 and 90 degrees of the runway heading. It exceeds the ability of the aircraft to handle cross winds.”
Weather observer Art Judson, who monitors Web-based wind gauge reports, reported that as of 2 p.m., the peak gust recorded on Storm Peak had been 54 miles per hour. The wind was clocked at 46 miles per hour at Steamboat Lake State Park, and at 40 miles per hour on U.S. Highway 40 at the Mount Werner Road interchange.
The stiff winds were sufficient to reignite a fire in a haystack on a ranch on Routt County Road 44 that Steamboat firefighters thought they had extinguished Friday.
Ski area spokeswoman Loryn Kasten wrote in a 1:45 p.m. email that the Christie Peak Express had just closed leaving the ski area with Thunderhead Express, Bar UE, Bashor, Burgess Creek, Rough Rider, Preview and Elkhead chairlifts operating.
"(Monday's) winds are quite high and as the day progresses we are having to close more and more lifts. But skiing/riding is still available,” Kasten wrote.
She added that as high winds caused lifts to be closed, open lifts were operated at slower speeds until all of the ski area’s guests have been unloaded.
Ski area officials also reported that American Airlines flights between YVRA and Chicago and Dallas had been canceled by weather. Similarly, the wind caused cancellations to and from Atlanta on Delta Airlines. The Delta flight from Minneapolis was diverted to Denver and the return flight from Steamboat was canceled.
Similar scenarios played out with United Express flights between Denver and the Yampa Valley.
A Frontier Airline flight from Denver took off for YVRA but returned to Denver.
Smith said that when the wind began to batter the airport, it happened suddenly.
“I was in a staff meeting between 10:30 and 10:45 a.m., and boom, all of a sudden the wind started. It was really cooking out here,” he said.
Smith said that commercial aircraft can handle winds of the velocity that streamed through the Yampa Valley on Monday if they are closer to alignment with the runway.
“If they are within 20 degrees of the runway heading it’s not such a big deal,” Smith said. “But these were blowing almost 90 degrees to the runway.”
A windy ski season
The biggest windstorm of the winter thus far began shortly after midnight on Dec. 1, 2011.
Steamboat Ski Area spokesman Mike Lane said that at 6:10 a.m. Dec. 1, a wind gauge on Tower 30 on the Steamboat gondola near Thunderhead Peak 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 more than 70 mph, Lane said.
That storm knocked down power lines in the city, but only about 100 households were temporarily without power.
Steamboat Ski Area was closed early on the morning of Dec. 22, 2011, when winds gusted as high as 70 mph but was able to reopen by 1:30 p.m.
562 planned to fly out of YVRA
An airport bulletin from the Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp. at 3 p.m. Monday confirmed that 355 passengers were scheduled to arrive at the airport in Hayden on Monday and 562 travelers were booked on flights out of the airport.
Lisa Adamo, of Go Alpine, said dispatchers at her taxi company were busy arranging alternative transportation to Denver for travelers hoping to get rebooked onto planes bound for their destinations.
“I won’t know until the day is over what the totals are,” Adamo said. “I don’t bother the dispatchers when they are this busy. Some people travel to Denver, others decide to stay in Steamboat another night.”
The National Weather Service in Grand Junction, which had issued a high wind warning for Steamboat on Monday, expected the gusts to die down sometime after 8 p.m.
The temperature was 62 degrees at 4 p.m., but a cool front behind the wind was expected to limit Tuesday’s high temperature to a high of 56 degrees. Unseasonably warm temperatures were expected to return Wednesday with a forecasted high of 64 with sunny skies.
Smith said that with outbound capacity for 1,400 passengers Tuesday, the airport should be able to accommodate any travelers who opted to spend an extra night in Steamboat on Monday night.
To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205 or email tross@SteamboatToday.com