Feeling the chill of Southwest Colorado?

When the mercury falls, accidents, violence, need for assistance rise

Durango’s high Friday was 24 degrees, causing those outside, including pedestrians along Main Avenue, to bundle up. Wesley Goss, 8, of Bloomfield, N.M., center, feels the chill while walking down Main with his mother, Amanda Goss, and grandfather, Tony Goss of Le Roy, Ill. Enlarge photo

STEVE LEWIS/Durango Herald

Durango’s high Friday was 24 degrees, causing those outside, including pedestrians along Main Avenue, to bundle up. Wesley Goss, 8, of Bloomfield, N.M., center, feels the chill while walking down Main with his mother, Amanda Goss, and grandfather, Tony Goss of Le Roy, Ill.

For many local businesses, including Durango Mountain Resort, liquor stores and clothing merchants, Durango’s frigid temperatures and recent snowfalls are the commercial equivalent of a Christmas miracle.

But to health officials, law enforcement, homeowners and the homeless, winter is not the most wonderful time of the year.

La Plata County Sheriff Duke Schirard is usually relieved when winter is over.

He said the holidays reliably bring about a sharp increase in domestic violence calls.

“A lot of people – when they’re not going to work every day, they tend to drink a little more this time of year, and the alcohol will cause emotions to run hotter than usual. Family arguments – whether it’s financial stress or too much fun – it just seems like people are either very happy or very depressed this time of year.”

Certainly, winter has brought more road deaths.

Colorado State Patrol Trooper Josh Lewis said that, as the weather had gone “downhill, with snow, ice and freezing rain,” car accidents across the state had become both more numerous and more fatal.

Lewis said most accidents were caused by drivers disdaining cursory winter precautions – such as slowing down on curves.

The additional hours of darkness and people driving intoxicated or fatigued also contribute to the increase in accidents.

This year has brought some unusually harsh temperatures. Average for this time of year is 37 degrees during the day and 11 degrees at night. But on Friday, the daytime high was 24 degrees, and come nightfall, it was forecast to plummet to minus 3. Today’s high is expected to be in the upper 20s and tonight’s low around 3.

Dan Speece, operations manager for Bayfield’s Creative Plumbing & Heating, said such frosts inevitably freeze pipes.

“I’ve seen some bad stuff in my time,” Speece said.

“Homeowners go out of town and forget to turn off their water,” causing their pipes to burst, Speece said, Such a mishap routinely leads to $15,000 repairs on just the plumbing system – not including expenses related to damaged floors and walls, as well as mildew and rot.

While homeowners may understandably shiver at that prospect, Durango’s uncommonly bleak temperatures are especially chilling for the homeless.

Candace Kane-Hedrick, director of the La Plata County Humane Society Thrift Store, said the store sends vouchers to about 10 organizations throughout the year for homeless people to buy clothes.

“Normally, when a homeless person walks up to us, they don’t even have a voucher. We just try to help them the best we can, giving them a blanket, gloves,” she said.

Sofia Madeen, assistant manager of the First United Methodist Thrift Shop, said business was booming – not because of winter, but “because of the depression. It’s not a recession, I’m not afraid and won’t mince words.”

Madeen said the stinging cold and slumping economy had meant record sales for the last three years.

“There’s definitely demand, but it’s not just those who are homeless or indigent protecting themselves from the elements. Everybody is economizing,” she said.

Madeen said that whenever her staff comes across items they can’t sell – gloves with small tears or jackets marred by stains – they are set aside for the indigent.

David Bruzzese, spokesman for Mercy Regional Medical Center, said the emergency room was seeing the usual repertoire of seasonal injuries, from skiing accidents to broken bones and head injuries from slipping on ice.

cmcallister@durangoherald.com

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