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Short-lived storm to hit Southwest Colorado

Snowpack in the San Juan Mountains above Trout Lake is off to a slow start for the winter season. (Jim Mimiaga/The Journal)
‘Sunshine is kind weather, but we are getting killed with kindness’

A fast but weak storm will move through Southwest Colorado tonight, according to the National Weather Service, but it won’t be enough to break the dry spell.

The La Niña weather phenomenon – characterized by cooler-than-average temperatures in the Equatorial Pacific – has created persistent high pressure over the area, pushing storms north of the Four Corners.

“We have not had any strong individual storms to break the pattern,” said Jim Andrus, Cortez weather observer for the National Weather Service. “They say sunshine is kind weather, but we are getting killed with kindness.”

There is a 60% to 80% chance of showers after 5 p.m., which could turn to snow later in the evening as temperatures fall to 25 degrees, Andrus said.

Headlights reflect off the wet pavement on Camino del Rio on Tuesday afternoon in Durango. A quick-moving storm was not expected to bring significant moisture. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)

“It is not a big storm and will be out of here in one day, then it will be sunny again Wednesday and for Thanksgiving,” he said. Snowfall is not expected to accumulate.

Two to 4 inches of snow are forecast for higher elevations of the San Juan Mountains.

The weather service, in a Special Weather Statement issued because of holiday travel, warned that U.S. Highway 550 over the San Juans and Interstate 70 heading east from Vail up to Vail Pass have the best chances for some slick, snowy, and slushy roads from the storm.

November has been extremely dry in Southwest Colorado. The only precipitation for the month came during a light rain on Nov. 9, which brought 0.04 inch for the month, or 5% of the normal 0.85 inch.

October was more generous, with 1.45 inches of precipitation, or 134% of the normal 1.08 inches for the month.

For year-to-date precipitation through October, the Cortez area was showing 9.8 inches of precipitation, or 98% of the normal 10.05 inches.

“However, a dry November will knock that down,” Andrus said.

Last year through October, Cortez was at 52% of normal precipitation.

“Overall, we are well ahead of last year,” he said. “Our drought level has improved. It has dropped from the highest level of “exceptional” to lower categories across the county.

Snow begins to fall in the La Plata Mountains on Tuesday afternoon, while drivers make their way along U.S. Highway 160 west of Durango. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)

Long-term averages show a drying trend for the area.

Based on the new historical 30-year average – 1991 to 2020 – Cortez’s annual precipitation is 11.79 inches per year, down from 12.57 inches per year when the 30-year average was from 1981-2010.

The 30-year average in Cortez for years 1971 to 2000 was 13.21 inches.

The winter forecast is expected to be warmer and drier than normal, Andrus said.

Local forecasts

According to the weather service, there’s a 60% to 80% chance of rain and snow Tuesday night in Southwest Colorado.

In Montezuma County, temperatures are expected to climb to 48 Tuesday and drop to 25 overnight.

In La Plata County, a daytime high of 52 and an overnight low of 18 degrees are forecast.

Skies will clear on Wednesday and become sunny on Thanksgiving Day, the weather service said, with highs in Southwest Colorado settling into the lower 40s, and overnight lows, to around 20 degrees.

Sunny and warmer weather is expected the rest of the week, with highs climbing into the lower 50s by Sunday. Lows will be in the upper 20s.

Josh Hamill, slopes manager at Purgatory Resort, takes off in a snow grooming machine on Thursday as snow is being made above the resort on one of the runs.(Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)
Skiing conditions
  • Purgatory Resort on Tuesday reported an 8-inch base of snow, with a chance of snow and a high of 33 degrees forecast for Wednesday.

Lifts are now running 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily. Skiers and snowboarders may take Lift 1 to the top, ski down Westfork and El Diablo to Lift 2, and download to the base area on Lift 1. No beginner or low-level intermediate terrain will be available, the resort said in a newsletter.

The resort also offers a Thanksgiving dinner, with seatings at 5 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Cost is $65 per person.

  • Wolf Creek Ski Area has an 11-inch snow base, according to onthesnow.com. Four of its 10 lifts are open. The ski area will open Wednesday through Sunday.
  • Telluride Ski Resort plans to open Dec. 3.