High winds wreak havoc in Winter Park, Fraser
February 23, 2012
WINTER PARK/FRASER – Extremely high winds accompanying a blistering snow storm brought on a busy night for East Grand Fire Protection District Wednesday into Thursday morning.
The fire department received 10 to 12 calls within about four hours Wednesday night due to transformers on fire, wires down and trees on wires, according to Assistant Chief Dennis Soles.
The fire department clocked winds at the East Grand headquarters at about 45 miles per hour. The weather station at the Middle Park High School in Granby clocked winds at 61 miles per hour.
Meanwhile, horizontal winds on Berthoud Pass and other high points along the Continental Divide held strong at 80 to 100 miles per hour, according to the National Weather Service in Boulder.
The storm produced thunder snow, a phenomenon that sometimes occurs from late February into May in the high country. Basically a thunderstorm with snow instead of rain, such a storm can make the sky a shade of purple, according to Kyle Fredin, National Weather Service meteorologist.
The thunder snow was an indication of unstable air, he said. A strong northwest jet stream at 120 knots was moving the unstable, cold air over the state. Wind gusts began Tuesday evening and peaked Wednesday night.
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Once the breaker tripped in the East Grand Fire district, most of the fire hazards were alleviated, Soles said.
Mountain Parks Electric experienced multiple power failures Thursday night, mostly the Fraser and Winter Park areas, Winter Park Highlands and Devil’s Thumb Ranch, according to Greg Guthridge, MPE manager of operations.
The outages were mainly from trees being blown into power lines that in some cases tore lines down, Guthridge said. In most cases, power was restored within a couple hours.
Two electric poles broke on Wednesday night behind Safeway toward Meadow Ridge, affecting 11 customers who my mid-morning on Thursday were still without electricity.
Mountain Parks Electric workers went out on emergencies starting at 8:30 p.m. Wednesday night and were out all night. On Thursday they were still repairing damaged conductors and performing cleanup.
No major fires occurred as a result of the winds, though several slash piles in the area, such as up CR 8, CR 73 and in the Granby Fire District, were of serious concern, Soles said.
At around 3 p.m., two transport vans drove off of Highway 40 on the way to YMCA of the Rockies during a whiteout. About 20 passengers from out of town spent the night at the nearby East Grand Fire Station in Fraser to wait out the storms, Soles said.
“It was nice to see the snow,” he said, “but it would have been nice if it had come in with a little less wind.”
Berthoud Pass closed around 1 a.m. on Thursday morning due to an avalanche and was still closed as of 11 a.m. Thursday while Colorado Department of Transportation workers conducted avalanche control. Sections of I-70 were also closed Thursday morning.
On Thursday, the Colorado Avalanche Information Center issued warnings to backcountry travelers to “stay away from any terrain that exceeds 30 degrees slope angle.
“Human-triggered and natural slides are likely on Thursday,” the Center warned.
Winter Park Resort reported 7 inches of snowfall by 5:30 a.m. Thursday morning. The resort had a slight delay in opening due to the wind. While Gemini, Prospector and the Zephyr lifts opened, high elevation lifts such as Panoramic Express, Eagle Wind and the Pioneer lifts remained closed as of 11:30 a.m.
Ski patrollers continued to monitor the mountain, assessing terrain and downed trees, according to Winter Park spokesperson Mistalynn Lee Meyeraan.
– Tonya Bina can be reached at 970-887-3334 ext. 19603