Rainfall, snow increase dangerous conditions as avalanche threats loom on Western Slope
Rainfall on lower elevations is causing concern about runoff, and snow in the mountains has caused multiple avalanches, with more precipitation expected through Wednesday.
The crack and boom of isolated thunderstorms were heard in the area Wednesday evening. Thursday morning saw winds gusting to 40 miles per hour in some areas.
“Recent rainfall in excess of a half an inch appears to have fallen in mid to lower elevations over the past 24 hours. Some of this rain may have also fallen on snow, increasing the runoff potential,” according to the Hydrologic Outlook from the National Weather Service in Grand Junction.
As a result, rivers and creeks were reported to have risen as of Thursday morning.
“These rises may continue over the next 24 hours, but no flooding is anticipated at this time. … But this threat will continue to be monitored,” according to the report.
The widespread valley rain and mountain snow showers Thursday were expected to diminish overnight, but not before leaving another four to eight inches of snow across mountains above 8,000 feet.
Mountain snow resulted in a number of avalanches during the past week, prompting the Colorado Avalanche Information Center to issue its highest level of alert for most of the high country.
On March 3, a backcountry skier was caught, buried, and killed in an avalanche near Lizard Head Pass.
Conditions have officials urging people to stay out of the backcountry until the danger abates.
“It’s going to continue to be ugly out there. We’re hoping that people don’t go to the backcountry today,” said Summit Rescue Group Spokesman Charles Pitman in an interview with the Summit Daily Thursday morning.
“CAIC is saying extreme avalanche conditions,” Pitman added. “I’m not sure I’ve ever seen that before. Natural avalanches are going to start coming down everywhere.”
Avalanches, some caused by mitigation work, resulted in temporary closures of some roads in Colorado this week — including Interstate 70 and U.S. Highway 40 — and prompted notice from CDOT urging drivers to avoid the I-70 mountain corridor Thursday.
“The Colorado Department of Transportation and the Colorado Avalanche Information Center work hard to mitigate the avalanche risk to motorists on Colorado’s highways,” officials said when sharing video footage of mitigation efforts on the Disney slide path which is above Berthoud Pass on U.S. Highway 40. The video is available at CraigDailyPress.com. According to officials, snow from the Disney slide “hasn’t hit the highway since 1957.”
Another Pacific storm is expected to move through the area, bringing the potential for significant snow accumulations Friday and Friday night. Skies are expected to clear for a mostly dry day Saturday. Unsettled conditions are predicted to appear Sunday through Wednesday, when a series of upper-level disturbances are expected to pass through the region.
Weather spotters are encouraged to report snowfall amounts to the National Weather Service in Grand Junction.
Contact Sasha Nelson at 970-875-1794 or snelson@CraigDailyPress.com.