Summit County ski areas primed for weekend storms, up to 20 inches expected
January 20, 2017
Summit County is in for another wave of winter storms, although they won't be as burly as those that rocked the area for the first two weeks of January, snarling plow operations and even causing a major building collapse.
Those wallops tapered off last week, but the blue skies retreated late Thursday as the first of three storms expected into next week laid down an inch or two of fresh snow at the county's ski areas.
The Colorado Department of Transportation briefly closed Interstate 70 at Vail Pass late Thursday afternoon for an accident cleanup, but aside from periodic lane closures the roads were otherwise clear.
CDOT issued a release late Friday afternoon warning that the coming storms could bring more than a foot of snow to some mountain passes and slow traffic throughout the I-70 corridor.
The third and final storm is expected to bring several inches Sunday night through Tuesday night, with as many as four inches predicted during the day on Monday at Copper Mountain and Keystone.
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"The storm systems will likely result in the return of snow-packed and icy roads for I-70 from Georgetown to Vail, and may require chain and traction laws," I-70 mountain corridor manager Patrick Chavez said in the release. "We'd like to remind travelers heading to ski resorts and winter events to be prepared for slower traffic and longer commute times because of the snowy conditions."
According to the release, CDOT may implement safety metering east of Silverthorne over the weekend to help alleviate congestion.
All told, forecasters are predicting anywhere from 10 to 20 inches of new snow by early Wednesday next week.
"The big difference between this series and the first two weeks of January is that it won't hit us quite as directly, so the snow totals will be less and not crazy high like last time," said Joel Gratz, a meteorologist with the forecasting website OpenSnow.com. "But a couple of inches every 36 hours over a few days can still make for some great skiing."
The first storm began to thin out during the day on Friday, but the second act was expected to roll into the northern mountains on Saturday afternoon and continue into the night. The third and final storm is expected to bring several inches Sunday night through Tuesday night, with as many as four inches predicted during the day on Monday at Copper Mountain and Keystone.
Colorado's southern Rockies will enjoy the brunt of the storms. On Friday, Purgatory Resort had reported seven inches of new snow in the past 24 hours with another four to eight predicted during the day Saturday.
The new snow is expected to increase avalanche danger, especially if the low winds that are currently predicted ultimately pick up and lead to more snow transfer. That would end a period of low-to-moderate slide danger that followed roughly ten days of high danger and avalanche warnings across the state after January's early storms.
That period of instability saw significant avalanche activity in the High Rockies, including a slide that took out a semi truck on I-70 and another near Keystone Resort that destroyed an historic cabin.
Sunshine and warmer weather have since tamped down that new snow, reducing avalanche danger across the state to moderate.
"It was time and warmer temperatures that allowed that new snow layer to really gain strength," said Ethan Greene, director of the Colorado Avalanche Information Center. "It was so thick that it firmed up into a really strong, stable layer."
After the storms pass, by around mid-day Wednesday, forecasters are confidently predicting a prolonged dry spell that will last until at least Feb. 3. The good news, however, is that while such lapses in snowfall sometimes come with no end in sight, there are signs that this one could end after about a week.
"Next Thursday through the first week of February looks pretty dry, and the atmosphere sort of takes a break," said Gratz. "Sometimes that means it stays dry, but we're potentially seeing the end of the dry spell before it even starts."
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