Blizzard conditions demand highway closures

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Hundreds of motorists were caught in whiteout conditions between Craig and Steamboat Springs early Monday evening.

The severe weather forced the temporary closure of U.S. Highway 40 from Rabbit Ears Pass to the Utah border.

Law enforcement officials reported dozens of cars, pickups and semitrailers sliding off roadways throughout Northwest Colorado while the strong Pacific storm blew through the region. No serious injuries were reported, and the highway was reopened to traffic between Steamboat Springs and Craig at about 8:45 p.m.

Routt County Emergency Management Director Chuck Vale reported treacherous driving conditions during the height of the storm.

"It was the worst between Hayden and Steamboat that I've ever seen," Vale said. "It was unbelievable. You could literally not see two feet in front of you."

"It's a whole lot worse as you head west," Elliott reported Monday evening. "You can hardly see the hood of your car."

Vale estimated that 500 vehicles traveling between Steamboat and Craig were caught in the storm. Motorists who were between towns were advised to safely proceed to the nearest town to wait out the storm, Colorado State Patrol Sgt. Scott Elliott said.

Stranded motorists began congregating at the Kum & Go in downtown Hayden before officials there opened the Routt County Fairgrounds Exhibit Hall, Vale said.

Moffat County Sheriff Tim Jantz said no emergency shelters were being employed in Moffat County, as most people were reporting they had a place to stay in Craig or the surrounding area.

"We are just recommending that no one travels," he said. "If you have a warm place to stay, stay."

The closures proved frustrating for many commuters unable to make it home from their jobs in Steamboat Springs. U.S. 40 was closed westbound from the Sleepy Bear Mobile Home Park on the western city limits of Steamboat, meaning residents of the Silver Spur, Steamboat II and Heritage Park subdivisions were prohibited from driving the final couple of miles home until shortly before 9 p.m.

Colorado Highway 13 was closed from Rifle to the Wyoming border, and Colo. 14 was closed from Rabbit Ears Pass to Walden. Dangerous driving conditions also were reported along Colo. 131 between Steamboat and Yampa, though the road was not closed. Vale said Colo. 131 would have been closed had there been enough officials to close the road.

Jantz said several accidents had been reported in Moffat County by 8:30 p.m., but there were "no major accidents that I know of at this time."

Vale and Elliott didn't know of any significant accidents or injuries that resulted from the weather in Routt County.

"It just seemed to be a lot of delays, and that's a good thing," Vale said.

Vale reported about 100 passengers stranded at Yampa Valley Regional Airport, though a United Express flight still hoped to take off for Denver late Monday evening.

The snow and blowing snow advisory for Steamboat Springs, Hayden and Craig was set to expire at midnight Monday.

Jantz emphasized a message he wanted to get out to the public if a similar problem occurs: To call road conditions at 511 or go online to www.cotrip.org, noting several people called dispatch or 911 to get road information, which could tie up the lines in a major emergency.

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