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Colorado driving laws with respect to ice and snow removal

When it comes to removing ice and snow from a vehicle before getting on the road, Colorado has little to no laws on the books. 

“There is not a specific Colorado law that prohibits driving down the road with a snow- or ice-covered vehicle,” Colorado State Patrol Sgt. Blake White said. “It could end up creating a civil liability if your failure to clear your vehicle results in damage or injury to someone else.”

Where the law could also apply is if snow or ice obstructs the driver’s vision through the vehicle’s required glass.

According to White, drivers often fail to clear their windshield, hood or other windows of snow and ice, which can lead to serious safety hazards. 

“The snow can blow and obstruct other drivers from seeing clearly or can come off in a large damaging sheet of ice and strike another vehicle,” White said. 

Subsequently, Colorado State Patrol highly recommends that drivers remove snow from their entire vehicle in order to prevent it from being a hazard to themselves or others.

Locally, Lt. Bill Kimminau said the Glenwood Springs Police department had received at least one complaint this winter of vehicles with too much snow on their roofs driving on the city’s streets.

However, unless that snow or ice obstructs the driver’s vision or prohibits the vehicle’s lights or license plate from being seen, law enforcement has limited tools at its disposal. 

According to Kimminau, 12 wrecks occurred in the area Friday during the day. 

“They were scattered all over town.” Kimminau said. “Side streets, parking lots, Grand [Avenue]…I know it was really slick in the morning.”

In addition to clearing vehicles of ice and snow before getting on the roadways, White also emphasized a basic winter driving principle – slowing down.    

“Let’s get everybody home safe at the end of the day,” Diane Reynolds, Take A Minute campaign member, said.

Take A Minute is a local grassroots campaign, which grew out of Imagine Glenwood’s ongoing mission to enhance neighborhoods by promoting pedestrian, cyclist and driver safety. 

The campaign’s name derives from the fact that the time saved by driving 10 miles per hour over the 25 mph speed limit through Glenwood’s core evidently amounts to exactly that – one minute.

“Obeying community speeds are really critical to Glenwood’s long term wellbeing,” Reynolds said. 

“In winter weather drivers must plan on it taking longer to reach their destinations,” White said. “Slow down, give yourself more room and don’t drive distracted.”

According to Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) data, Garfield County experienced eight fatal crashes which took the lives of 10 people last year.

mabennett@postindependent.com  

Update: Highway 6 reopens near Rifle

Update: Highway 6 near Rifle reopened in both directions at 10:20 a.m.

Due to an accident at mile-marker 93 authorities have closed the two lane highway.

Traffic is being diverted at Whiteriver Avenue and Hwy 6 as first responders investigate and clear the scene.

An overnight snow fall created slick conditions on the roadways in western Garfield County during the morning commute.

Stay tuned to postindependent.com when more information comes available.

Ice Jam release potential through Sunday afternoon could cause flooding along Roaring Fork River

An ice jam advisory means water levels for the Roaring Fork River could quickly rise this weekend through portions of Eagle, Garfield and Pitkin counties.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration issued the advisory, which will remain in effect until 2:15 p.m. Sunday.

According to the advisory, conditions exist for ice jam releases along the Roaring Fork River from Snowmass Canyon to Glenwood Springs.

As of Friday morning, the National Weather Service in Grand Junction said no ice jam releases had occurred, but that conditions are prime for them through Sunday afternoon.

“Those really cold temperatures and then warming up really quickly, that just makes those conditions favorable for those releases,” Meteorologist Megan Stackhouse with the National Weather Service said.

Although a rare occurrence, the breakage of an ice dam can push rushing water carrying sheets of ice and debris through narrow river channels.

According to the advisory, anyone on or near the Roaring Fork River should “use extreme caution” through Sunday afternoon.

Earlier this week, the Roaring Fork Conservancy in Basalt issued its own alert due to favorable ice jam release conditions.

“Nothing materialized this week,” Rick Lofaro, Roaring Fork Conservancy executive director, said of the advisory set to expire Sunday afternoon. “The possibility still exists.”

Officials hoped this weekend’s forecasted cooler temperatures would reduce the chances of an ice jam release, but asked river users – particularly anglers – to still use extreme caution.

mabennnett@postindependent.com

Avalanche season arrives in Garfield County

Last winter season rewrote the avalanche record book. More snow slid off Colorado peaks than ever recorded before, which also meant more people caught in dangerous situations.

While it’s unlikely the state will see the same amount of avalanche activity this year, the dangers are already starting to show.

Grand Mesa is one of the few areas of the state to be ranked with considerable avalanche danger by the Colorado Avalanche Information Center.

On Thursday, a snowmobile triggered a small snow slab slide in the Grand Mesa area, and skiers triggered a larger avalanche near Kebler Pass.

The avalanche danger comes from both new, freshly fallen snow and a weak snowpack underneath, according to the report. With more snow since Christmas Day, the danger can increase.

October’s snowstorms this year set up conditions for avalanche risk.

“That snow sat on the ground for a long time, and when that happens, it turns to weak faceted crystals that aren’t bonded well together,” said Mike Cooperstein, a forecaster at the Avalanche Information Center.

That old snow can look like little glass pellets, and when heavier snow falls on top, the loose ice crystals underneath can become overburdened and slide.

“We’ve had that stuff sitting on the ground around the state, but especially in Grand Mesa where the snowpack is pretty thin,” Cooperstein said.

“As we add new load to those weak crystals, we build a slab over the top of those weak areas, we end up getting more avalanches,” Cooperstein said, which contributes to the red flag issues on Grand Mesa.

Colorado remains the most dangerous state for avalanches.

The state recorded 4,273 slides last season, according to the Avalanche Information Center’s annual report.

Only 92 of those avalanches caught up with humans. A total of 135 people were caught in avalanches, and eight of those people died.

The best way to avoid getting caught in an avalanche is to avoid avalanche-prone spots when the danger is high.

For Grand Mesa, any peaks near treeline on northerly or easterly facing slopes could be at risk of a slide. The weak ice crystal base needs shade to develop into the shifting pellet shapes.

But other areas could exhibit the telltale signs of weak snowpack.

 “What people want to look out for is cracking, collapsing in the snowpack, and recent avalanche activity,” Cooperstein said.

The Avalanche Information Center encourages backcountry visitors to read the daily avalanche outlook before venturing out. Every member of the party also should have rescue gear, including a shovel, avalanche probe and a transponder.

tphippen@postindependent.com

Not much snow in the forecast for a while

VAIL — People waking up on Christmas morning were treated to a light dusting of snow making for a white Christmas, however not very much accumulation fell. Vail Mountain reported 1 inch overnight for skiers and snowboarders.

That’s not really the definition of powder for Christmas, however it should be celebrated as the National Weather Service called for very few “white Christmases” this year across the country.

The southwestern part of the state could be a different story. Meteorologist Sam Collentine of OpenSnow.com called for a “firehose of moisture” coming with the system, but most of the snow was expected to remain to the south of Interstate 70 and the Vail Valley.

The good news is that travelers will probably have to deal mainly with traffic, not weather, making their way to and from Eagle County during the holidays, at least through the weekend.

Collentine’s forecast called for occasionally wet and icy conditions, with dry conditions returning by today.

Collentine’s forecast calls for another chance of light snow Friday and Saturday, but not enough to really foul travel conditions.

Little snow in the forecast

Norv Larson, a meteorologist in the Grand Junction office of the National Weather Service, said there isn’t much significant snow coming over the next several days, either. A new system could come in from the northwest toward the middle of the week of Dec. 30, but that won’t bring a lot of snow, either.

“I wish there was more (for the Vail Valley),” Larson said. “This is a better system for the San Juan and West Elk (mountains)” over the next week or so.

The good news is that area snowpack is solid, although we’re still early in the current snow season.

As of Monday, the Eagle River Water & Sanitation District was reporting that snowpack — as measured by the “snow water equivalent” in that snow — is running close to the 30-year median.

As of Monday, Vail Mountain’s snow was 97% of the 30-year median. The snow measurement site at Copper Mountain — the closest site to the headwaters of Gore Creek — was at 121% of normal. The measurement site at Fremont Pass — the closest site to the Eagle River’s headwaters — was at 114% of normal.

The district’s graphs, while encouraging, also tell us we have a lot of winter left.

The median snowpack on Vail Mountain generally peaks around April 20. And current snowpack, while tracking with historic averages, is only about one-third of the way to the seasonal peak.

Still, the early numbers are good.

What about El Nino?

But growing the snowpack also relies on continuing snow. Weather forecasters generally don’t make predictions more than about a week in advance. Longer-term looks come from the federal Climate Prediction Center.

That agency’s current forecasts for the next eight to 14 days show a roughly even chance of average temperature in the area, with a slight chance of above-average precipitation.

Larson said trends this winter are harder to pin down because there’s neither an El Nino nor La Nina pattern in the Pacific Ocean west of South America.

El Nino patterns develop with warmer-than-average water temperatures in that region. La Nina patterns are driven by cooler-than-average water temperatures.

El Nino patterns tend to benefit the southern mountains in Colorado and the Front Range. La Nina patterns generally bring storms out of the Pacific Northwest.

Larson said those patterns give weather and climate forecasters “something you can really hang your hat on.”

Without either pattern present, forecasting is “more subtle and nuanced,” Larson said, acknowledging that those neutral patterns aren’t clearly understood.

Essentially storms this winter will develop as they will, and we’ll just have to see what the rest of the season brings.

Denver TV stations air holiday segments on CMC avalanche science program

Faculty and students of Colorado Mountain College’s avalanche science program will be featured in a Denver news special airing during the holidays.

The half-hour program, “Colorado Avalanches: The Science Behind the Slides,” details last March’s historic avalanches.

It will air three times: at 5:30 p.m. Dec. 25 (Christmas Day) on KDVR Fox 31, and again at 7:30 p.m. on KWGN Channel 2; and at 10 a.m. Jan. 1 (New Year’s Day) on KWGN Channel 2.

The special features CMC’s avalanche science program in the second segment of the show.

Will Glenwood Springs see another White Christmas?

Glenwood Springs has experienced a “white Christmas” three times in the last three years.

According to the forecast, that trend will likely continue this Christmas, too.

“It looks like possible accumulation of up to 2 inches by Christmas morning,” Dan Cuevan, National Weather Service technician, said. “Snow showers continuing through the day Wednesday. Any additional accumulation would be light.”

Technically, snow does not need to fall on Dec. 25 for a white Christmas to occur.

Instead, the National Weather Service defines a white Christmas as “having one inch or more of snow on the ground on Christmas morning,” regardless of when it fell.

PAST CHRISTMAS DAY WEATHER IN GLENWOOD SPRINGS

2016: High temperature of 31 degrees with a low of 25 degrees. No snow was on the ground Christmas morning but about one inch fell throughout the day.

2017: High temperature of 32 degrees with a low of 20 degrees. No snow was on the ground Christmas morning but about one inch fell throughout the day.

2018: High temperature of 39 degrees with a low of 19 degrees. Four inches of snow was already on the ground Christmas morning. An additional inch fell throughout the day.

RECORD HIGHS AND LOWS

According to the National Weather Service in Grand Junction since 1989 Glenwood Springs experienced its coldest Christmas in 1990 when the temperature dipped to -18 degrees. Additionally, the warmest Christmas came in 2001 with a high temperature of 49 degrees.

While nothing in this year’s Christmas Day forecast appears “record breaking,” another White Christmas seems very likely for Glenwood Springs.

mabennett@postindependent.com

Will Rifle Have a Wet or White Christmas?

Rifle residents may hear Bing Crosby’s rendition of “White Christmas” this holiday season. However, whether or not they will actually see a white Christmas on Dec. 25 remains up in the air.

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the city of Rifle has a 49% chance of seeing a White Christmas this year.

That percentage reflects U.S. climate normals between 1981 and 2010.

Technically, the National Weather Service defines a white Christmas as having at least an inch of snow on the ground – regardless of whether or not it actually snows on Christmas Day.

Past Christmas Weather In Rifle

2016: .14 inches of rain with only a trace of snow. High of 37 degrees and a low of 27 degrees.

2017: 1/2 inch of snow fell with 2 inches already on the ground. High of 35 degrees and a low of 19 degrees.

2018: 1 inch of snow fell with 3 inches already on the ground. High of 37 degrees and a low of 13 degrees.

The National Weather Service in Grand Junction did not have similar data for the nearby communities of Parachute and Silt.

White or Wet?

Although still a few days away, Meteorologist Thomas Renwick thought Rifle’s 2019 Christmas weather may produce rain instead of snow.

According to Renwick, the extended forecast showed Rifle and Western Garfield County having nice weather through Christmas Eve.

“Right now the models are saying that on midnight Christmas Eve, moisture is going to move into the [Rifle] area,” Renwick said.

The weather system moving in early Christmas morning will bring plenty of moisture from the Pacific, however warm southwesterly winds also in the area may prevent snow and instead produce rain Renwick said.

As of Wednesday morning, weather.com was forecasting a high of 41 degrees and a low of 26 degrees on Christmas Day in Rifle and a 40 percent chance of precipitation.

“The mountains above [Rifle] will have snow on them, but in town itself, I think it’s going to be a tough call,” Renwick said.

mabennett@postindependent.com

Snowstorm in Roaring Fork Valley, Colorado mountains forecast through Sunday evening

Snow is expected to continue through the day Saturday and into Sunday evening with up to 18 inches in some areas of the Colorado high country, including the Aspen area.

In a winter storm warning issued Saturday morning and lasting until 5 p.m. Sunday, the National Weather Service said snowfall will be “moderate to heavy” through Sunday.

“Additional snow accumulations of 6 to 18 inches, with locally higher amounts exceeding two feet (and) winds gusting as high as 50 mph” are expected, according to the warning, which covers much of the Colorado mountains.

The snow has raised avalanche concerns for the backcountry, and an avalanche warning has been issued through Sunday night because of “intense snowfall and strong winds.”

The weather outlook for Saturday states the snow will pick up in the central and southern Colorado mountains by Saturday evening and continuing into Sunday.

After this storm moves through, the rest of the week will be dry and colder starting Monday through the midweek “with a slow warming trend at mid slopes by late week.”

In the avalanche warning, the Colorado Avalanche Information Center said slides in the backcountry could be deadly with all the new snow on the older layers.

“You can trigger avalanches from a distance or from below slopes. These avalanches will be large enough to bury and kill you,” the CAIC warns. “Wind-drifted slopes will produce the deepest and most dangerous avalanches, but you can very easily trigger a slab avalanche on any steep terrain. Travel in and below avalanche terrain is not recommended. You can find safer riding options on lower angle slopes in wind-sheltered areas.”

I-70 at Vail Pass reopened after avalanche mitigation

Interstate 70 over Vail Pass has been reopened as of 1:10 p.m. Saturday, after a safety closure due to avalanche mitigation, according to Colorado Department of Transportation’s cotrip.org.