JERRY McBRIDE/Durango Herald
JERRY McBRIDE/Durango Herald
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.
“It’s encompassing most of the state,” he said at 5 p.m. Friday. “It’s a big storm; there’s no two ways about it.”
He added: “It’s about time. It’s been tough, especially down south. I don’t 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. “It’s 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 we’ve 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 it’s 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 people’s 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 Local’s 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.
“We’re definitely enjoying it,” Oyler said. “We’re excited to get help from Mother Nature. It’s great to see winter here. We’ve got a great product now, but this just enhances it. We’re stoked.”
For many, the snow is long overdue.
“I’m loving it. It’s magnificent,” said Laura Gillon, of Durango. “We finally got some. If we have snow, then we’ll 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, it’s like I’m ready for winter,” said Sarah Kelly of Durango. “I’m hoping this means we’re 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.
“We’ve been busy, but not overwhelmed,” he said Friday. “I’m 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 3½-year-old son, Miles.
Krista Walsh said she has enjoyed the unseasonably warm weather, but she’s ready for winter.
“I’ve been riding bikes a lot, so it’s been good,” she said. “(But) it’s 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, we’re 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: “It’s very helpful psychologically and emotionally. It’s just a good feeling to see this moisture falling and know that it’s 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.
STEVE LEWIS/Durango Herald
JOSH STEPHENSON/Durango Herald
JERRY McBRIDE/Durango Herald