Snow, heavier traffic expected on I-70 through Colorado’s High Country ahead of Thanksgiving, reports say
When is the best time to travel through Colorado's mountains? Our traffic analysis breaks it down.
Snow is expected to greet last-minute holiday travelers on Interstate 70 through the High Country, and more people are expected to be on the roads this year as Thanksgiving nears.
About 951,000 Coloradans intend to travel more than 50 miles this year, according to AAA Colorado, which is a 2.8% increase from last year and just 7,000 fewer than Colorado’s record set in 2019.
The holiday forecast shows the highest rate of travel since the pandemic, according to AAA, with more than 54.6 million Americans seeking flights, hotels and gas to see family on Thursday, Nov. 24.
“Travel is roaring back from the pandemic,” AAA spokesperson Skyler McKinley said in a statement. “Facing high gas prices, other inflationary pressures and a wobbly economy, travel spending still hit its highest point since the pandemic began. AAA expects busy roads and long lines at the airport, so give yourself extra early and be as flexible as you can with your travel plans.”
Though it’s still early to predict the exact impact of Wednesday’s snowstorm, OpenSnow meteorologists say up to 2 inches of snow could accumulate at higher elevations on I-70 by Thursday morning.
National Weather Service meteorologist Bernie Meir shared the same forecast Monday evening, Nov. 21, and he advised anyone expecting to travel Wednesday to monitor road conditions.
“We are looking a little uncertain with this system,” Meir said. “Just a couple of inches could make things slick, and if it slides a bit to the east, it could miss us, too. It’s not a big storm, but I’d take care if you’re traveling, especially if the roads are bad.”
OpenSnow meteorologist Sam Collentine said a bulk of the precipitation is expected to fall late Wednesday afternoon through Wednesday evening with a return to mild and dry weather Thursday and into the weekend. Higher elevations are expected to receive the most snow, including Vail Pass, Hoosier Pass and elevations higher than 9,000 feet.
“Right now we are looking at a couple inches through the higher passes and probably less than an inch if anything at lower elevations in the valleys,” Meir explained.
While clear skies and mild temperatures are expected to form Thursday and stick around until Saturday, clouds could hang around into midday Thursday.
“This system is chilly, so it’s possible you wake up Thursday morning and there could be a light dusting on the roads,” Meir said. “That could make it slick during the morning hours.”
Summit County is under a hazardous weather outlook from Tuesday through Sunday due to the forecast, so meteorologists warn drivers to remain cautious throughout the holiday.
“Heavy traffic along westbound I-70 will also be a concern on Wednesday, so plan to give yourself extra travel time,” Collentine wrote in his latest I-70 forecast.
Best times to drive on I-70
The Wednesday before Thanksgiving has historically seen the most traffic through the Eisenhower-Johnson Memorial Tunnels on I-70, and Saturday typically ranks second, according to Colorado Department of Transportation data.
But in 2021, Saturday saw the highest travel totals through the tunnels with nearly 27,000 cars traveling east and more than 18,352 people traveling west. Traffic peaked between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. that Saturday, and more than 2,000 vehicles traveled through the tunnel each hour during that time frame. Though Sunday saw lower totals than Saturday, there is only about a 2,000 vehicle difference.
On Wednesday, travelers can expect the highest traffic around the same time frame. Traffic will be heaviest in the westbound lanes of I-70 and slightly lower for those looking to head east. For those traveling west, traffic began to hit more than 1,000 vehicles per hour through the tunnel around 7 a.m. and traffic remained high until about 7 p.m.
In general, the best time to travel on Thanksgiving week is before 10 a.m. and after 6 p.m., when less than 1,000 cars are expected to go through the tunnel, according to a review of 2021 CDOT data.
Thursday is the slowest day for traffic historically, and there are 10,000 less drivers on I-70 Friday than there are on Saturday.
In 2021, Monday saw about half the number of travelers on I-70 when compared to Saturday and Sunday totals. For live travel updates, real-time road conditions and more information on traveling, visit CoTrip.org.
Support Local Journalism
Support Local Journalism
As a Summit Daily News reader, you make our work possible.
Summit Daily is embarking on a multiyear project to digitize its archives going back to 1989 and make them available to the public in partnership with the Colorado Historic Newspapers Collection. The full project is expected to cost about $165,000. All donations made in 2023 will go directly toward this project.
Every contribution, no matter the size, will make a difference.