The first snowfall in Northwest Colorado caught many drivers unaware Monday after almost 3 inches of snow blanketed the area overnight.
Law enforcement officers were kept busy, with the Colorado State Patrol (CSP) taking the brunt of accident calls. Beginning at 8 a.m. Monday, the CSP communications center logged 14 accident dispatches in Moffat, Routt and Rio Blanco counties. None of the accidents caused injuries, but several drivers were cited for careless driving or driving too fast for conditions.
"The first storm people always have to be re-educated again," CSP Capt. Gary Torgerson said. "People see the speed limit signs and think they can do that."
CSP dispatchers said the number of accidents isn't unusual for the first snow.
The Craig Police Department responded to three accidents within city limits. According to Public Information Officer Lt. John Forgay, none of those accidents caused injury.
Forgay said many people were deceived by the layer of snow on the roads and expected that snow to provide traction, but moisture from early Sunday evening and the cold temperatures caused a layer of ice to build up underneath the snow.
Driving safely on icy roads isn't complicated, according to officers.
"Slow down and back off, it's as simple as that," Torgerson said. "Give yourself plenty of time to get where you're going."
Forgay warns drivers against putting too much faith in snow tires, anti-lock brakes or four-wheel drive vehicles.
"Even through people have snow tires and are ready, there's still caution that needs to be taken," he said. "I see a lot of faith in four-wheel drive vehicles, but I really don't see any more benefit when stopping on ice."
The key, Forgay said, is to be prepared.
"Conditions in Colorado change so rapidly, it's difficult to predict what type of situation you may encounter," Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) Executive Director Tom Norton said. "However, there are certain measures that can be taken to assure safer and more comfortable travel."
CDOT officials urge drivers to travel with safety equipment including a blanket, flashlight, jumper cables, chains, flares, a shovel, a bag of gravel or sand, a first-aid kit, extra coats, gloves, hats, drinking water and food.
If an emergency occurs, Norton said, people should stay with the vehicle and wait for help. Engines may be used sparingly to provide warmth as long as the tail pipe is clear of snow and the window is cracked open for ventilation.
The lateness of the first snow must have deceived people into thinking snow was not coming, said Carl Chapman, owner of Chapman's Automotive in Craig. He said he was buried with calls Monday from people wanting snow tires.
"They act like the snow is a total surprise," he said.
Chapman is booked solid through Wednesday and has started making appointments for Dec. 1 because of the rush.
But this type of rush isn't unusual, he said.
"Every year at the first snow we can expect this," he said.
Still, the demand is putting a strain on warehouse stock. Several Denver warehouses have started running out of snow tires, Chapman said.