Winter blasts onto scene
City and county workers fired up plows and de-icing trucks and would-be over-the-road travelers were cautioned to stay home as a major winter storm barged into western Colorado on Tuesday, dumping snow on the valleys and mountains and threatening to make a mess of this morning’s commute.
A winter storm warning remains in effect for virtually all of the Western Slope until noon today before the storm moves out and temperatures plummet to near zero tonight.
“There’s winter storms and then there’s winter storms, and this is shaping up to be the biggest storm of the season so far,” said Joe Ramey, a forecaster with the National Weather Service in Grand Junction.
Meteorological conditions were ripe for a productive storm, with warm, moist air pushing up from the Southwest and a cold front dropping down from the north, according to Ramey. The system stalled in the northwest part of the state most of the day Tuesday, keeping the Grand Valley dry, before descending into the valley late in the evening. It was expected to pack its biggest punch after midnight.
The Weather Service took the unusual step of advising motorists against venturing into the mountains of western Colorado and eastern Utah. If you must head out, forecasters said, take extra food, water and warm clothing and let others know when you’re leaving and where you’re going.
Ramey said he and his wife intended to leave for New Mexico Tuesday evening but decided to wait until later today.
“We won’t try to drive into this advancing front and get stuck on the side of the road,” he said.
“We’ve made our choice to stay in town and delay our trip. We hope other people will make that evaluation,” Ramey said.
The Colorado Department of Transportation closed a roughly seven-mile stretch of Colorado Highway 65 atop Grand Mesa Tuesday night in order to perform avalanche mitigation work. CDOT spokeswoman Nancy Shanks said the time at which the highway reopens today depends upon snow and visibility conditions.
The closure won’t affect the public’s ability to access Powderhorn Mountain Resort from Interstate 70. Updates on the closure are available at http://www.cotrip.org.
Here in the valley, the city of Grand Junction and Mesa County dispatched public works employees to spray magnesium chloride on stretches of roads prone to icing over. At full capacity, the city and county could have more than 30 trucks equipped with plows on the road.
Officials said they would focus on clearing school bus routes and major arterials, meaning those who live on neighborhood or side streets shouldn’t expect to see the flashing lights of a plow in front of their house.
“Our main goal is to make it so that you only drive on one untreated street to get to a treated street,” said Darren Starr, the city’s manager of streets, solid waste and stormwater.
The city has plenty of money in its budget to deal with the storm.
Starr said the Utilities, Street Systems and Facilities Department sets aside about $100,000 a year for materials needed to clear snow. A mostly dry January, February and March means the city has spent just $12,000 so far this year, Starr said.
In the event the city receives several inches of snow, Starr advised residents to wait several hours after the storm ends before shoveling their sidewalks.
He said if plows are activated this morning, they could shoot snow off the streets and onto sidewalks, covering up any early work.
“Some people get so excited and get out and (shovel) right away,” he said.
Grand Valley Transit officials said they would make sure their parking lots were cleared by 5 a.m. when buses begin running and have advised drivers to be prepared to show up to work up to 30 minutes early.
If they haven’t done so already, riders are advised to log onto http://www.gvt.mesacounty.us, click on TimePoint and sign up for automatic alerts.
“If we see that snow is too much for us to handle, we’re not able to safely provide service, we’ll send out notifications that either buses are running late or not running at all,” said Todd Hollenbeck, manager of the Mesa County Regional Transportation Planning Office, which oversees GVT operations.