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Grand County digging out after massive winter storm, part of statewide ‘bomb cyclone,’ pummels area

An inmate at the Grand County Jail helps to clear snow-covered sidewalks in front of the sheriff’s office on Wednesday morning. (Bryce Martin/bmartin@skyhinews.com)

Grand County is still digging out from the massive winter storm that blanketed most of the area Wednesday.

During arguably the county’s biggest snowstorm this winter, schools released students early, businesses closed their doors and travel was discouraged.

While an average of more than a foot of snow fell across the county, the biggest complication for drivers was the whiteout conditions caused by gusty winds.

The storm was an effect from a massive bombogenesis, or “bomb cyclone,” that impacted much of the state, leading Gov. Jared Polis to declare a state of emergency and activating the National Guard.

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, a “bomb cyclone,” essentially a winter hurricane, occurs when a midlatitude cyclone rapidly intensifies, or quickly drops in atmospheric pressure.

For a storm to be classified as such, specific conditions must be present, namely when a storm’s central barometric pressure drops at least 24 millibars in 24 hours. A millibar is a way of measuring pressure. So, the lower the pressure, the more powerful the storm.

It can happen when a cold air mass collides with a warm air mass, according to NOAA.

The low-pressure system tracked across southeast Colorado and southwest Kansas throughout Wednesday, according to the National Weather Service in Boulder.

“The storm center itself never came over the Front Range area, but it was still a very big storm,” a NWS meteorologist confirmed Thursday. “It affected pretty much all of Colorado.”

While Grand County wasn’t in the direct crosshairs of the storm, it certainly still felt great effects.

About 12 car crashes were reported Wednesday, according to the Grand County Sheriff’s Office, with countless more slide-offs due to slick road conditions and poor visibility.

One vehicle traveling along Highway 34 near the south shore of Lake Granby lost control and slid off the road onto the frozen lake. No injuries were reported.

The most serious crash occurred early Wednesday morning, leading to a temporary closure of Highway 40.

Highway 40, between Parshall and Kremmling, was closed briefly at around 8 a.m. as authorities worked to clear a two-vehicle collision that resulted in multiple injuries.

Local and state authorities had to extricate passengers from the wreck, which occurred near milepost 193. According to local law enforcement, a Waste Management garbage truck collided with a passenger vehicle carrying multiple passengers.

Authorities confirmed that at least three individuals were injured in the collision, including at least one serious injury. No fatalities have since been reported.

Beginning at around noon, 187 miles of Highway 40 were closed, stretching from just east of Kremmling to the Colorado-Utah border because of severely limited visibility. It was fully reopened at about 7 p.m.

Following a scheduled avalanche mitigation closure at 1 p.m., Berthoud Pass was ultimately fully closed to traffic due to poor conditions and didn’t reopen until about 9:30 p.m.

While skiers and boarders enjoyed the 16 inches of snow that fell at Winter Park Resort, many others around the county were forced to stay inside, asked by the sheriff’s office and emergency management to limit travel.

Both East and West Grand school districts closed early, releasing students after noon. It marked the first time East Grand School District had closed early due to a winter-weather event since St. Patrick’s Day in 2003, according to Grand County Superintendent Frank Reeves.

Many businesses around the county followed suit, closing their doors for the day. The Lift transit service was also suspended at 6 p.m.

According to the weather service, the forecast in Grand County for the next five days shows sunny conditions and daily high temperatures in the mid- to high-30s.

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Here were the live updates from throughout Wednesday.

9:30 p.m. Wednesday: Berthoud Pass has been reopened to traffic.

7:44 p.m.: According to local reports, at least 30 CDOT and local public works plows were hard at work throughout the day to clear Grand County’s roads.

6:31 p.m.: Many highways around the state remain closed due to the severe weather conditions. The only closure at the moment in Grand County is Berthoud Pass.

Road conditions and closures in Colorado as of 6:30 p.m. Wednesday. (Courtesy / CDOT)

6:28 p.m.: ROAD OPENING — Highway 40, from Kremmling to Steamboat Springs, has been reopened. Though the Grand County Sheriff’s Office is cautioning that it might not stay open if high winds continue to contribute to poor visibility.

6 p.m.: The Lift transit system has ceased service for the day. It will resume normal operation Thursday.

5:01 p.m. Interstate 70 has reopened in both directions, from U.S. 6 to Golden.

4:42 p.m.: The National Weather Service in Boulder is calling for one to two additional inches of snow in Grand County between 6 p.m. tonight and 6 p.m. Thursday.

4:22 p.m.: BUS SCHEDULE CHANGES — The Wednesday night schedule for The Lift is being adjusted due to extreme weather. The last local route leaving Winter Park Resort will depart at 5:30 p.m. The last bus on the Granby Line leaving Winter Park Resort will depart at 6 p.m. and all Lift transit service will be halted at 6 p.m.

4:16 p.m.: ROAD OPENING — An alternate route has been opened to access Steamboat Springs. Travelers can take Highway 40 west of Kremmling to Highway 134, about five miles north of Kremmling, then connect to Highway 131 and travel north to Steamboat. Highway 40 between Steamboat Springs and Craig has been reopened.

4:15 p.m.: ROAD OPENING — County Road 804, from Safeway to top of Meadow Ridge Hill in Fraser, has been reopened.

3:37 p.m.: Snow is tapering off in eastern Grand County. The National Weather Service in Boulder is forecasting wind chills as low as -6 degrees Wednesday evening into Thursday morning. Thursday could see wind chill values as low as -4 degrees during the day.

3:25 p.m.: Gov. Jared Polis has declared a state of emergency in Colorado.

3:18 p.m.: CLOSURE — Many Grand County businesses have closed for the day due to weather, including Pepe Osaka’s and Charlie’s Frozen Treat Shop in Winter Park; Dollar General and County Ace Hardware in Granby; and Altitude Pizza in Granby has no delivery today, only pick-up.

3:12 p.m.: ROAD CLOSURE — Berthoud Pass will be closing shortly in both directions due to weather and road conditions. There is no estimated time for reopening.

2:38 p.m.: Winter Park Resort is reporting about 12 inches of snow since last night. Roughly 10 inches since this morning.

1:24 p.m.: SCHOOLS CLOSURE — Buses at Granby schools will begin loading at 1:45 p.m. and at 2:30 p.m. at Fraser Elementary.

12:55 p.m.: SCHOOLS CLOSURE — East Grand Schools will be closing early today, but no specific time for release has so far been provided. According to Superintendent Frank Reeves, the schools are waiting to make sure bus drivers are at the schools and ready to drive before announcing a definite time to parents. Parents may pick up their children at any time and the schools will announce bus departure times as soon as possible.

12:55 p.m.: CLOSURE — All Middle Park Health clinics in Grand County will be closing at 1 p.m. and opening late Thursday, at 10 a.m. Emergency departments in Granby and Kremmling will remain open.

12:53 p.m.: All county offices are closing at 1 p.m.

Visibility and road conditions are poor along Highway 40 through the Fraser Flats. Courtesy/CDOT

12:37 p.m.: ROAD CLOSURE — Both lanes of Interstate 70 from U.S. 6 to Golden — milepost 244 to 259 — is closed due to a crash. No estimated time of reopening.

12:31 p.m.: CLOSURE — The Grand County Administration building in Hot Sulphur Springs will be closing at 1 p.m.

12:15 p.m.: SCHOOLS CLOSURE — West Grand School District will have early release at 1 p.m. Buses are still running to normal stops.

11:51 a.m.: AVALANCHE WARNING — The Colorado Avalanche Information Center has issued an avalanche warning for Berthoud Pass. Backcountry avalanche conditions are very dangerous, according to the CAIC. Avoid crossing or traveling below backcountry avalanche terrain and other steep slopes. Natural and human triggered avalanches are very likely. They could break hundreds or thousands of feet wide and run to valley floors. Avalanches are impacting lower elevations and locations that have not seen avalanche activity in recent years. A potent storm with wet, heavy snow and strong shifting winds will keep avalanche conditions dangerous.

Wednesday’s avalanche conditions.

11:50 a.m.: ROAD CLOSURE — Both lanes of Highway 40 are closed starting at milepost 187, just east of Kremmling, to the Utah-Colorado state border due to whiteout conditions. There is no estimated time of reopening.

11:41 a.m.: ROAD CLOSURE — County Road 804, from Safeway to top of Meadow Ridge Hill in Fraser, has been temporarily closed.


11:35 a.m.: The Grand County Sheriff’s Office is asking people not to call 911 or dispatch for road conditions.

Visibility along Highway 40 south of Granby is sketchy. (Bryce Martin / bmartin@skyhinews.com)

11:30 a.m.: RMNP CLOSURE — Due to heavy accumulations of snow, winds and white out conditions at higher elevations, U.S. Highway 36 is closed at the Beaver Meadows Visitor Center in Rocky Mountain National Park and U.S. Highway 34 is closed at the Fall River Entrance and U.S. Highway 34 is closed at the Grand Lake Entrance to vehicles.

11:20 a.m.: Heavy snow continues to fall across all of Grand County, limiting traffic on roads as conditions are poor. A winter storm warning remains in effect for Grand County, according to the National Weather Service in Boulder. The warning is set to expire at 9 p.m. Wednesday.

People walking into City Market in Granby on Wednesday morning in the heavy snow. (Bryce Martin / bmartin@skyhinews.com)

All that can be seen on the horizon, looking from City Market to Grand Elk, is a solitary sign due to poor visibility. (Bryce Martin / bmartin@skyhinews.com)

11:19 a.m.: The current temperature is 29 degrees, with winds northwest at 7 mph. Heavy, continuous snowfall has been reported across Grand County.

11 a.m. Wednesday: ROAD CLOSURE — Berthoud Pass will be closed for avalanche mitigation at around 1 p.m. today.

Weather service predicting Wednesday storm to bring up to 20 inches of snow to Grand County

Grand County may see up to 20 inches of snow between tonight and Thursday afternoon, according to a winter storm warning from the National Weather Service in Boulder.

The weather service is forecasting snow to begin later tonight and accumulate throughout Wednesday and into Thursday, with 11 to 20 inches expected. Wind gusts of up to 45 mph are also expected.

Cold wind chills as low as -20 degrees are possible, which the weather service warns could cause frostbite on exposed skin in as little as 30 minutes.

The worst conditions are expected to occur Wednesday when the weather service is predicting blizzard conditions to hit the Front Range area, east of the Interstate 25 corridor. The storm warning lasts until noon Thursday.

Mountains and areas of higher elevation are expected to see the most snowfall, particularly Berthoud Pass, Rocky Mountain National Park and Rabbit Ears Pass.

Travel could be very difficult during this time, the weather service warns, as the combination of wind and snow leads to poor visibility and road conditions, as well as the risk of wind damaging trees.

Information on road conditions can be found at COTrip.org or by calling 511.

Another snow storm moving in could dump up to a foot in areas of Grand County

The National Weather Service in Boulder has issued a winter storm warning for areas of Colorado, including Grand County, forecasting another sizable snow storm beginning late Friday afternoon.

An active weather patter remains in place over Colorado, according to the NWS, which will bring more snow to the mountains Friday afternoon and evening, with additional snow amounts of six to 12 inches possible.

The heaviest amounts are expected over Rabbit Ears Pass and in Summit County.

A few embedded thunderstorms will also be possible, leading to locally higher snow accumulations.

Winter storm warnings for the mountains and a High Wind Watch for the Front Range Foothills are in effect for this afternoon and tonight to highlight the dangerous nature of this weather pattern.

Another weather system, according to the NWS, may affect the same area Monday night through Wednesday, and bring another round of precipitation to the region.

CDOT tells travelers to stay off I-70 through mountains

Colorado Department of Transportation is advising travelers to avoid traveling over the mountains on Interstate 70 Thursday, due to a natural avalanche and continued avalanche mitigation work.

The cleanup efforts for the avalanches near Vail and Copper Mountain, and avalanche mitigation near the Eisenhower/Johnson Memorial Tunnels will likely take much of the day.

“We’re going to have a pretty challenging day again on I-70,” CDOT spokesperson Tracy Trulove said Thursday morning.

As of mid-morning, both directions of I-70 were closed between Vail and Copper Mountain due to a natural slide that occurred around 1:45 a.m. that brought down about 6 feet of snow over the westbound lanes, Trulove said.

No one was injured in that slide, though a tow truck did get trapped by the slide and had to be towed out.

After shutting down I-70 for that slide, avalanche mitigation teams began setting charges around 7:45 a.m., and brought down a significant amount of snow, at least 15 feet deep on the interstate at some places, that will have to be cleaned up.

CDOT has also closed I-70 between Silverthorne and US 40 Empire Junction due to avalanche work near the Eisenhower/Johnson tunnels.

Beyond the interstate, CDOT has closed U.S. Highway 24 between I-70 and Leadville, and Highway 91 between Leadville and Copper Mountain due to adverse conditions. U.S. Highway 6 over Loveland Pass is also closed.

There was no estimated time for reopening for any of these highways as of midday.

CDOT had hoped to reopen I-70 at Vail by 9:30, but now it’s “looking like closer to a 6-hour cleanup,” Trulove said.

Travel throughout those mountain areas is “strongly discouraged,” CDOT said in a travel alert.

EASTBOUND TRUCKERS TOLD TO PARK IN GLENWOOD, DE BEQUE

All commercial vehicle traffic is being staged, Trulove said, as the alternate routes around the interstate closures are slippery and already congested.

“Travel on alternate routes is for passenger vehicles only,” Trulove said. Eastbound commercial vehicles are advised to park in De Beque or Glenwood Springs, as truck lots in Dotsero are full.

The snowfall over the past few weeks has prompted the Colorado Avalanche Information Center to upgrade the risk of snow slides for Aspen, Gunnison, Vail and Summit counties to extreme Thursday, the highest risk level.

Most mountain areas in Colorado are under avalanche warnings due to “exceptional avalanche conditions.”

“Every inch of avalanche terrain is extremely dangerous today,” CAIC said in a statement Thursday. “Avalanches are running to valley floors and some are exceeding historic run outs.”

Video: Controlled avalanche closes I-70 with 8 to 15 feet of snow covering road

A screen grab from a video of the controlled avalanche coming down the Bethel slide path, captured by Travis Gilbertson Tuesday morning.

A controlled avalanche at Mt. Bethel this morning has I-70 closed for the next several hours with eight feet of snow covering the eastbound lane, and 15 feet covering the westbound lane.

A video captured by Travis Gilbertson of Georgetown this morning shows the giant plume of snow pummeling down the Bethel slide path into the roadway.

The Colorado Avalanche Information Center captured a blurry, yet powerful video of the slide impacting the road.

The Colorado Avalanche Information Center also captured video from a helicopter of the controlled avalanche along the Disney slide path above Berthoud Pass on US 40. Berthoud Pass was closed for much of the morning, but has since partially reopened with alternating traffic allowing slow movement through US 40.

According to the Colorado Department of Transportation, no injuries or cars stuck in either avalanche were reported. With closures on I-70 both east and west of the county, and Loveland Pass currently closed, CDOT is advising drivers looking to get into Summit County or back to Front Range to utilize CO 9 to Fairplay, and US 285 into the Denver Metro area.

UPDATE: Berthoud Pass reopens following Tuesday avalanche mitigation

UPDATE 12:20 p.m.: Berthoud Pass has now reopened after successful mitigation work, according to Bob Wilson, CDOT Statewide Communications Manager. Wesbound Interstate 70 at the Empire Junction remains closed.

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Berthoud Pass will be closed to travelers for the next five to 10 hours, according to the Colorado Department of Transportation.

Avalanche mitigation work will be taking place along the route, which is one of the thoroughfares from Interstate 70 into Winter Park and Grand County.

Drivers are to expect lengthy delays and are advised to avoid the area if all possible.

Weather service forecasts feet, not inches, of snow for Grand County, mountain areas

The National Weather Service in Boulder is forecasting a major winter storm that will blanket areas of Colorado with multiple feet of snow by Sunday.

A winter weather advisory has been issued, until 5 a.m. Sunday, with the weather service calling, locally, for six to 12 inches of snow across Grand County, from Rabbit Ears Pass and Kremmling to likely higher amounts in Winter Park and along Berthoud Pass.

Moisture embedded in zonal flow aloft will move across Colorado through Saturday night. Periods of heavy snow will occur at times, according to the weather service.

In the mountains, 15 to 30 inches of accumulation will be possible with isolated amounts up to 40 inches by late Saturday night. Winds gusting up to 45 mph at times will produce areas of blowing snow and poor visibilities. A moist Pacific jet stream combined with an arctic cold front will bring snow to the Front Range and eastern plains beginning Friday evening and continuing through Saturday night.

A winter weather advisory for snow means periods of snow will cause primarily travel difficulties. Expect snow covered roads and limited visibilities, and use caution while driving.

The latest road conditions for Colorado can be obtained by calling 511 or visiting www.cotrip.org.

How much snow fell? Grand County daily snow totals from winter 2017-18

Storm could bring up to 14 inches of new snow to Grand County

A winter storm is on its way to the high country with snow expected to hit the mountains along I-70 late this afternoon and into Friday.

The National Weather Service has issued a winter weather advisory for Grand County and surrounding areas from 2 p.m. today through 11 p.m. Friday. Total snow accumulations of 6 to 14 inches are expected. The heaviest snow is expected to occur along the south of the I-70 corridor, primarily Summit and northern Park counties.

Snow may decrease Friday morning, but is expected to pick back up Friday afternoon.

-30 degree wind chills, 8 inches of snow or more could be in store for Grand County

The National Weather Service in Denver issued a winter weather advisory for Grand County on Tuesday with forecasts calling for bone chilling wind gusts and heavy snow.

In effect from 6 a.m. Wednesday to 5 a.m. Thursday, the weather service is calling for between three to eight inches of accumulated snow and high winds.

Wind chills could reach as low as -30 degrees, which weather experts say can cause frostbite to exposed skin in as little as 30 minutes.

Occasional snow showers will begin making their way into the area Tuesday evening, especially north of the I-70 corridor, according to the weather service. Amounts will be on the lighter side, generally in the one- to four-inch range. Snowfall will increase overnight in the Grand and Summit County mountains, with forecasters expecting from two to six inches of snow. The snow will be heaviest around Rabbit Ears Pass.

The strong weather system will continue across Colorado through Thursday morning, bringing moderate snowfall and gusty winds to the mountains. Additional snow accumulations of three to six inches will be possible, according to the weather service.

What are they? CDOT snow traps help keep highways free of snow

Snow traps plowed into a field just east of Hot Sulphur Springs.

Keeping local highways cleared of snow is a monumental task in winter and while most citizens are familiar with plowing operations, the Colorado Department of Transportation also relies on a little known program, called snow traps, to help ensure safe travel for motorists.

Snow traps are essentially windrows — a long line of material heaped up by the wind — made from snow. They are piled up in long, perpendicular lines in fields adjacent to state highways. Snow traps work by disturbing wind patterns just enough that Grand County’s light, airy powder drops into the depressions between the formed rows of snow.

The intention of snow traps is to reduce the amount of snow that blows across highways.

Andy Hugley, CDOT road supervisor for the eastern end of Grand County, said they use snow traps, which have existed for decades, in Grand County, though they’re more prevalent throughout the county’s northern neighbor, Jackson County.

“What we are trying to do is disturb the wind enough that the snow will drop into the traps,” Hugley said. “If you ever run down Highway 14, you will see miles and miles of them.”

In Hugley’s area of operation, CDOT works with about half-a-dozen landowners who allow CDOT onto their property to create the snow traps. No money trades hands between CDOT and the landowners as part of the agreement, though CDOT is required to repair any damage they cause to local fields and fences along the highway.

CDOT primarily utilizes loaders and graders to create the snow traps in Grand County, but rely on Snowcats in Jackson County. Equipment operators will head into a field, or highway easement, and plow the snow up into elongated piles. As more snow is deposited in the snow traps, operators return and plow the traps again, adding more height.

“The neat thing is we put them in and they melt out,” Hugley said. “It is not a structure that we have to maintain, like a fence.”

CDOT plows snow traps in the fields east of Hot Sulphur Springs, near County Road 61 on Highway 34, along sections of the highway between Granby and Red Dirt Hill and a few in the Tabernash area. Hugley said CDOT normally adds snow traps along the Fraser flats, but this season’s winter weather has stymied those efforts.

“It’s been too damp,” Hugley said. “But if we get enough snow, we will be putting some traps in there.”

While there are several factors that help CDOT determine where to place snow traps, heavy winds are the primary factor. Snowfall is a major factor, as well, but the traps are located in more open areas where high winds can cause large amounts of snow to blow across the highway, even in circumstances with relatively light snowfall.

“It depends on weather, whether that is snow or wind, on when we get in there and when we install them,” Hugley explained. “You can put traps in with almost no snow, but the wind comes up and fills them up.”