Summit County snowfall a welcome sight after days of higher temperatures
After more than a week without snow, between 7-and-10 inches of fresh powder fell on parts of Summit County and area resorts Sunday to Monday.
The sudden upturn in the winter forecast following several days of slightly higher-than-average temperatures gave extended holiday guests just passing through a reason to rejoice. Local skiers and riders were undoubtedly pleased as well — though possibly a little less so, as snow totals have had somewhat mixed returns on the season.
While Breckenridge Ski Resort’s reported 22 inches so far in February, and Copper Mountain Resort’s 19 inches — the two ski areas receiving the brunt of this early-week, overnight storm — is better than the average February of approximately 16 inches, both resorts remain a shade below season-to-date averages. Breckenridge, for example, has become accustomed to almost 220 inches by this time of the year over the last decade, but currently sits at 209 including Monday totals.
The new snowfall had little effect on the daily affairs of the community. Interstate 70 and the other major arteries throughout the mountain corridor ran smoothly with the exception of a nine-hour closure of Loveland Pass overnight Sunday to Monday. The section of U.S. Highway 6 re-opened at approximately 7 a.m. Monday with the passenger traction law in effect.
A moderately higher volume of eastbound I-70 traffic put safety metering into effect at Eisenhower Tunnel Monday afternoon and produced delays of around 45 minutes. Otherwise, the only notable accidents were a handful of spinouts on Vail Pass both Sunday and Monday evenings, according to Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT)’s Amy Ford. The latter of which created a closure of the major throughway around 6 p.m.
Meanwhile, the Summit School District saw really no impact from the brief storm. The school schedule proceeded unaltered, and buses ran as usual before and after school, said a spokesperson.
Westerly winds on Monday — which gusted at between 15 and 25 miles per hour and kicked up flurries and reduced visibility for commuters — are expected to continue through Tuesday night, dropping off slightly to between 10 and 20 mph. Forecasts called for maybe another inch of snow Monday night but the return of sun and scattered clouds through Thursday evening, when a slight chance of snow returns as does the heavy wind.
Always a concern following quick snowfalls atop crusty base layers is the increased chance of unanticipated slides. The Colorado Avalanche Information Center (CAIC) warned of moderate danger at both near and above treeline early Monday morning, telling backcountry-goers to assess snow and terrain cautiously.
The strong winds gathered the new snow into drifts of more than a foot in some areas, and small-to-large avalanches from wind slabs remain possible, said avalanche forecaster Spencer Logan via the CAIC’s website. Wind slabs are formed when wind transfers snow from upwind sides of the topography and shifts it to the downwind side.
Wind slabs can also trigger what are known as persistent slab avalanches, which are large and quite hazardous if they break in the snowpack. Basically, a solid layer of snow in the middle-to-upper region is released when a lower, weaker layer gives way, and persistent weak layers can produce avalanches long after the most recent snowfall — for days, weeks and even months.
“Carefully evaluate the snowpack condition before you commit to steep slopes,” wrote Logan.
That doesn’t mean residents and visitors aren’t still hoping for more snow. With March on the horizon as traditionally the region’s snowiest month, ski areas are also optimistic that Monday’s dumping is only a sign of things to come.
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