Bow to the plow: Winter storm means you’ll share the road with snowplows |

Bow to the plow: Winter storm means you’ll share the road with snowplows

Randy Wyrick / Vail Daily
The driver of the grey vehicle is taking on a huge risk attempting to squeeze through the two snow plows as they work to clear the snow and ice off Interstate 70. CDOT says it is extremely dangerous for motorists to try to pass snow plows. The situation could result in blinding conditions after being hit with ridges of snow between lanes or getting trapped between the snow plow trucks.
Colorao Department of Transportation


When motorists come upon snow removal operations on the road and highway, CDOT recommends you behave this way:

Never pass on the right: Many plows use a blade extension (wing plow) on the right hand side of the truck. The blade extends the plowing area toward the shoulder of the road, leaving no room to pass. Also, plows are designed to push all the snow, slush, rocks and other debris to the right of the truck. The flying debris will damage your vehicle and obstruct your view of the road.

Never pass during tandem/echelon plowing: Tandem/echelon plowing staggers multiple plows to cover all lanes and clear the entire roadway in one coordinated sweep. This is the safest and most efficient snow removal method to clear the entire roadway. It is extremely dangerous for motorists to try and pass plows in this formation because you could encounter white out conditions, ridges of snow between lanes or get trapped between the snow plow trucks.

Never tailgate: Plows need to drop deicer and sand, so make sure you stay back at least three to four car lengths of space. If you’re too close, your visibility is reduced and deicer and sand could hit your car. You also never know when a plow might need to suddenly stop. Make sure you have plenty of room to do the same.

Source: Colorado Department of Transportation

VAIL —It snowed Monday, Feb. 5, and forecasts say it’s going to keep snowing until early Wednesday morning.

It’s not that much, really — five or six inches says the National Weather Service, but that means you’ll be sharing the road with snowplows. For those who are new in this world, snowplows working Interstate 70 are those huge orange trucks with the flashing lights. They’re easy to spot, or so it would seem.

And yet several motorists every winter insist on making themselves the subjects of physics experiments in mass vs. velocity. Spoiler alert: Your velocity loses to a snowplow’s mass.

“Every winter, we experience several passenger vehicles crashing into our plow trucks. In most every incident, they were attempting to pass our plows,” said Greg Stacy, superintendent for the Colorado Department of Transportation’s Maintenance Section 3, which includes Eagle County.

For snowplows to remove snow efficiently and apply sand or deicers safely, they cannot go faster than 35 mph, Stacy explained.

“This speed may seem slow to some drivers following a snowplow, but to attempt passing is very, very risky,” Stacy said.


Five or six inches of snow won’t make much of a dent in this year’s low snowpack, but meteorologists with the National Weather Service are happy to have it.

“This winter, whatever we get is great,” Chris Cuoco, meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Grand Junction.

Global weather patterns tend to depend on what part of the globe you’re standing in.

Cuoco said anything west or southwest of Western Colorado is really hurting. The Cascades in the Pacific Northwest and the northern Rockies in Montana are getting more snow than the Central Rockies Resort region, but not as much as they usually do.

“Even they’re not getting it this year,” Cuoco said.

However, the other side of the country has been getting one storm after another.

“It’s two countries this year, in terms of weather,” Cuoco said.

Among his other duties, Cuoco tracks drought conditions and what they mean for wildfire season.

“We saw this (weather pattern) two years ago. All the indications were it was going to be a terrible fire season,” Cuoco said.

However, snow and rain through April and May dampened the landscape, and the fire season was relatively light, Cuoco said.


The La Nina pattern is keeping the western U.S. dry, Cuoco said.

La Nina is the opposite of El Nino. We get La Nina when sea surface temperatures in the central Pacific Ocean drop to lower-than-normal levels. El Nino is higher-than-normal temps in that part of the Pacific.

The cooling of this area of water near the equator, typically unfolds during late fall and early winter, and impacts weather around the globe.

In our part of the globe, Western Colorado and the western U.S., a weak La Nina should be delivering, but a ridge of high pressure over the desert Southwest and West Coast has pushed storms to the north just about all winter.

The Vail Valley’s snowpack is suffering as a result. The Eagle River Water & Sanitation District tracks the snow water equivalent at U.S. Department of Agriculture snow-measurement sites on Vail Mountain, Copper Mountain and atop Fremont Pass. Copper and Fremont aren’t in the Eagle River’s watershed, but are the closest to the headwaters of Gore Creek (Copper) and the Eagle River (Fremont).

At Vail, the snow water equivalent is only six inches, 55 percent of the 30-year median. The news is better at Copper Mountain, where there’s 6.6 inches of water in the snowpack, 80 percent of the 30-year median. At Fremont Pass, the snowpack holds 9.4 inches of water, 99 percent of the median.

Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 and

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