Snow, accidents close pass for two hours
SUMMIT COUNTY – The snow was enough to snarl traffic and close Vail Pass Friday morning, but there’s still plenty of room for more precipitation, weather watchers said.
Rick Bly, a weather recorder in Breckenridge for the National Weather Service, reported six inches of snow from Thursday night’s spring storm, which amounts to .44 inches of precipitation. That’s more than he recorded all month, he said.
The weather wetted roads and led to several accidents around the county, according to Colorado State Patrol Capt. Ron Prater. As snowfall continued Friday morning, accidents followed, and the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) closed traffic over Vail Pass at 10:30 a.m. Colorado State Patrol Capt. Scott Friend said conditions got nastier the higher motorists went on the pass.
“There were five-car accidents, four-car accidents, and jack-knifed semis, and that closed everything down,” Friend said. “I can’t even tell you how many accidents there were.”
Several people were taken to Vail Valley Medical Center for treatment but there were no reports of serious or life-threatening injuries.
The highway was so badly blocked that a Summit County ambulance had to respond to a crash on the west side of the pass because the accident couldn’t be reached from the Eagle County side. Vail Police Sgt. Steven Wright, who helped coordinate the interstate closure on the Eagle County side, said the accidents may have been worse because many people were expecting more summer-like driving conditions at the beginning of the holiday weekend.
“People were driving by us wearing shorts and tank-tops,” Wright said. “They were obviously in vacation mode.”
All lanes of Vail Pass were reopened, though still congested, by about 1 p.m., after CDOT crews cleared snow and slush from the interstate.
Drivers also found themselves in accidents in Summit County. Several fender-benders were reported Friday morning, including a Summit County Sheriff’s deputy who went off the road in a personal vehicle on Hoosier Pass. But other areas of the county reported only small amounts of snow. Eisenhower Tunnel supervisor Mary Moss said that, despite some snow, there were still dry spots on the road. Moss said traffic was moving smoothly and snow was light, at the same time Vail Pass was in a whiteout.
Paul Peterson in CDOT’s Lakewood traffic operations center, which ordered the pass closure, said motorists shouldn’t have been surprised by the snow. Peterson said CDOT, TV and radio news outlets and the state patrol had been warning motorists for 30 hours before the storm hit. He said drivers might have been caught off guard by the magnitude of the storm, but they shouldn’t have been surprised.
“You do have to feel for them, though,” Peterson said. “Everyone’s headed out for vacation, and this isn’t what they want.”
Many merchants were torn by what they need for business and what they know is good for the county. In addition to keeping statistics for the weather service, Bly also owns a business in Breckenridge. Bly said that, although he and other business owners depend on the holiday traffic and shoppers, “it’s a small price to pay, considering the fire danger.”
“We could have great weather for the weekend,” Bly said. “But if there’s a fire, people don’t come up here to look at burned stumps.”
– Matt Zalaznick contributed to this story
Reid Williams can be reached at (970) 668-3998 ext. 237 or email@example.com.
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