Summit County slammed by spring storm, I-70 an ‘utter mess’
May 18, 2017
Summit County was pummeled by a larger-than-expected snowstorm on Thursday that snarled traffic, canceled school and even scuttled the governor's planned visit to Silverthorne.
The National Weather Service expects the snow to continue falling into Friday evening, with total accumulations as high as 36 inches in some areas.
By 2:30 p.m., a foot of snow had fallen at the Summit Daily office in Frisco and continued to accumulate throughout the rest of the day.
Interstate 70 was predictably hectic on Thursday, with at least six closures throughout the morning and early afternoon as crews scrambled back and forth between crashes and spinouts.
“We were ready, but you can only prepare so much. When it hits the fan you just have take it one crash at a time.”Patrick WilliamsColorado State Patrol sergeant
"It's colossal, just a complete and utter mess," said Colorado State Patrol sergeant Patrick Williams. "It's been non-stop — crash after crash, slide-off after slide-off. We're just trying to keep things moving."
Westbound I-70 was first closed at the Eisenhower Tunnel at around 4:15 a.m. for crash clean up. Continuing into the afternoon, that stretch of road was barely open for more than two hours at a time as vehicles continued to lose control and crash.
The Colorado Department of Transportation closed Loveland Pass on U.S. Highway 6 just before 7 a.m., telling travelers to expect an extended closure.
By 7:30 a.m., the Summit School District had canceled all classes, field trips and after-school activities, citing the deteriorating road and weather conditions.
Williams said that as of Thursday afternoon, the most serious injury was a broken arm suffered by a passenger involved in a two-car crash near the Eisenhower Tunnel that caused a closure at around 10:30 a.m.
The road reopened about an hour later but was closed again within minutes due to a pile-up on Silverthorne Hill. Accidents started to taper off after that incident, and the traction law was lifted on I-70 by 2 p.m. after being in place for more than 12 hours.
"We were ready, but you can only prepare so much," Williams said. "When it hits the fan you just have take it one crash at a time."
Governor John Hickenlooper had been scheduled to visit Silverthorne at 2 p.m. on Friday for a bill signing, but by 11:30 a.m. his press secretary said the event had been canceled due to the weather.
By mid-afternoon, Breckenridge, Dillon, Frisco and Silverthorne announced in a joint press release that their respective town clean-up days — originally scheduled for Saturday — had been canceled due to the heavy snowfall.
The springtime wallop laid down nearly 20 inches at Arapahoe Basin Ski Area, the only ski area in the county still spinning lifts. At Copper Mountain, a snow stake camera showed that 24 inches had fallen there in just 10 hours.
"Near the divide and into Summit and Eagle counties this a lot bigger than I was expecting," said meteorologist Joel Gratz. "This is unusual but not unheard of. It does not often snow this much in May."
Gratz estimated that the storm dropped anywhere from 2 to 5 inches of liquid-equivalent snow, enough for this single storm to account for roughly 5 percent of Summit and Eagle's annual precipitation.
After the storm peters out late Friday afternoon, Gratz expects cold weather and possible flurries to continue into the middle of next week.
"There could be more snow but probably not this much," he said. "This is a pretty amazing event. But in the historical record there have been big storms through the end of May, so it's possible that we could get another dump."
In the backcountry, meanwhile, the storm sent avalanche danger soaring after weeks of relative stability. On Thursday, the Colorado Avalanche Information Center issued a statewide special advisory extending into Saturday.
"Backcountry riders should anticipate hazardous avalanche conditions," the advisory read. "The potential for fresh storm slab avalanches to easily sheet off old snow surfaces will continue to increase as the storm snow drifts and piles up. Things will continue to become more dangerous as we move toward Friday. Backcountry riders can plan on very dangerous avalanche conditions to last into the upcoming weekend."