Better late than never

Snow brings needed relief to S.W. Colo.; a second storm expected to hit this afternoon

The Colorado Department of Transportation clears snow Friday north of Durango on U.S. Highway 550. The storm brought the first significant snowfall of the season to the region. Enlarge photo

JERRY McBRIDE/Durango Herald

The Colorado Department of Transportation clears snow Friday north of Durango on U.S. Highway 550. The storm brought the first significant snowfall of the season to the region.

A wet Pacific storm that coated Southwest Colorado with its first significant snowfall of the season was expected to move out of the region early today.

A secondary storm was expected to move into the region this afternoon, dumping up to five inches in the San Juan Mountains, forecasters said.

Snow started flying about 3 a.m. Friday in Durango and dumped 6 inches, or 0.64 inches of moisture, as of 6 p.m., said volunteer weather observer Briggen Wrinkle.

The widespread storm tracked across parts of Arizona, Utah, New Mexico and most of Colorado, said Norv Larson, forecaster with the National Weather Service in Grand Junction.

Its encompassing most of the state, he said at 5 p.m. Friday. Its a big storm; theres no two ways about it.

He added: Its about time. Its been tough, especially down south. I dont need to tell you guys that.

In all, the first storm was expected to leave up to a foot of snow in Durango and more than a foot of snow in the San Juan Mountains. Ski areas got a needed layer. As of 4 p.m. Friday, Purgatory at Durango Mountain Resort was reporting 11 inches of fresh snow.

The Colorado State Patrol reported several minor accidents during the early commute Friday, including some rollovers, but none involved serious injury, said Trooper Jonathan Silver.

State highways were mostly clear, he said, but many county roads remained slick and snowpacked during the day.

The best thing these drivers can do on these road conditions is slow down, Silver said. Its good to see the snow coming; we hate to deal with the ramifications.

At Durango-La Plata County Airport, three flights were delayed for 20 to 30 minutes for de-icing activity, but none were canceled, said airport spokesman Don Brockus.

This is the first time that weve had to move snow this year, he said. This really has not been a difficult storm for us. We have a couple of new employees, and its been a perfect training snow.

Durango School District 9-R canceled all after-school activities Friday because of concerns about dangerous driving conditions, said spokeswoman Julie Popp.

While snow upset some peoples plans, ski areas reveled in the much-needed moisture.

Purgatory nearly doubled its mid-mountain base depth, and at 4 p.m. reported 20 inches. The resort was expecting another 2 to 4 inches overnight and 1 to 2 inches today.

Wolf Creek Ski Area reported 15 new inches as of 2 p.m. with a midway depth of 29 inches.

Telluride Ski Area did not update its snow total Friday evening, but reported one new inch as of 7 a.m. Friday.

Purgatory has been making snow as fast as possible to offset dry conditions and provide an early-season base Fridays through Sundays.

The resort will have Lift 1, also called the six-pack, open this weekend, said spokeswoman Kim Oyler. Sunday is a Locals Benefit Day, when lift ticket prices will be reduced and proceeds will benefit the La Plata County Mounted Patrol. Tickets will be $40 for adults, $32 for students and seniors, and $24 for kids ages 6 to 12.

Were definitely enjoying it, Oyler said. Were excited to get help from Mother Nature. Its great to see winter here. Weve got a great product now, but this just enhances it. Were stoked.

For many, the snow is long overdue.

Im loving it. Its magnificent, said Laura Gillon, of Durango. We finally got some. If we have snow, then well get tourists for the mountain, and then the tourists make more job security for us poor schmoes in town.

Southwest Colorado experienced several large wildfires this summer some that started as late as November that reminded residents of the drought conditions that precipitated the 2002 Missionary Ridge Fire.

The nice weather was great, but after a while, its like Im ready for winter, said Sarah Kelly of Durango. Im hoping this means were going to have a white Christmas.

Tire companies are typically slammed after the first snow, but this year, it came so late that many residents were prepared, said Mike Lewis, owner of Firestone of Durango.

Weve been busy, but not overwhelmed, he said Friday. Im sure this will spur some people. Some people have to slip and slide before they realize their tires are worn out.

About noon Friday, a trash can outside Auto Zone was filled with empty packages that had not long ago contained windshield wipers.

Winter supplies were selling fast at local stores such as Kroegers Ace Hardware, where Krista and Brian Walsh bought a shovel, sled and ice scraper.

They also planned to buy snow boots for their 3-year-old son, Miles.

Krista Walsh said she has enjoyed the unseasonably warm weather, but shes ready for winter.

Ive been riding bikes a lot, so its been good, she said. (But) its about time. We want to do the (Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge) Polar Express, and we want to have snow for it.

The moisture is a welcome change of pace for the agricultural community.

Tom Compton, who owns a beef and cattle ranch near Breen, called this year one of the driest he can recall since moving here 60 years ago.

Obviously, were not growing anything right now, but I think the ground is still capable of soaking up some of this moisture, and the more it soaks up, the better start we have next spring, he said.

He added: Its very helpful psychologically and emotionally. Its just a good feeling to see this moisture falling and know that its going to be helpful to us next year.

The storm is the beginning of a progressive pattern in which more storms carrying moisture can be expected, said Matthew Aleksa, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Grand Junction.

This storm will push out of the region by this morning, making way for another system from the Gulf of Alaska, which will produce lighter snow, up to five inches in the mountains, he said.

shane@durangoherald.com

“He got up first thing this morning and got after it,” said Andy Hawk of his son, Oren Hawk, 4, who helped shovel snow in front of his house and his neighbor’s house Friday on Riverview Drive. Enlarge photo

STEVE LEWIS/Durango Herald

“He got up first thing this morning and got after it,” said Andy Hawk of his son, Oren Hawk, 4, who helped shovel snow in front of his house and his neighbor’s house Friday on Riverview Drive.

Flanked by Sam on the left and Marley on the right, Brian Walsh and 3-year-old son Miles Walsh played in the snow Friday at Buckley Park in Durango. Enlarge photo

JOSH STEPHENSON/Durango Herald

Flanked by Sam on the left and Marley on the right, Brian Walsh and 3-year-old son Miles Walsh played in the snow Friday at Buckley Park in Durango.

Nick Howard with Rapp Corral, takes a team of horses out with a sleigh on the several inches of fresh snow north of Durango on Friday. Enlarge photo

JERRY McBRIDE/Durango Herald

Nick Howard with Rapp Corral, takes a team of horses out with a sleigh on the several inches of fresh snow north of Durango on Friday.

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