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What was that mushroom cloud formation seen from western Colorado on Monday evening?

A large cumulonimbus cloud seen from Snowmass Village at 8:35 p.m. Monday looking to the east toward the Continental Divide.
David Krause / The Aspen Times

Social media sites exploded with activity on Monday night as locals posted pictures of a mushroom cloud formation visible from most of Pitkin, Eagle and Garfield counties.

Meteorologist Dennis Phillips was able to provide a quick answer: Phillips said locals were enjoying the one storm cloud that was hanging out over Colorado.

“There was a thunderstorm all by itself, hanging out over Fairplay,” Phillips said on Monday night after seeing pictures of the cloud.

Phillips said light wind loft was creating the mushroom effect.

“The stem part of that mushroom is the updraft of the thunderstorm, so all that air is getting thrown upward, and it has to spread out, and when the winds are really light aloft, it can spread out in all directions,” Phillips said.

Phillips said the elevation of the storm cloud also contributed to the mushroom cloud effect. The top part of the cloud was at an elevation of about 36,000 feet.

A large cumulonimbus cloud seen from Snowmass Village at 8:24 p.m. Monday looking to the east toward the Continental Divide.
David Krause / The Aspen Times

“Once it gets up there around 36,000 feet it kind of hits a ceiling, and it just starts spreading out, and since the winds are so light, the clouds are going in all directions, a circular pattern,” Phillips said.

Meterologist Joel Gratz with opensnow.com described the large cumulonimbus formation it as a typical thunderstorm cloud.

“This one happened to be very photogenic with light from the sunset and no other clouds around competing for attention,” he said.

A large cumulonimbus cloud seen from East Vail on Monday.
John LaConte/jlaconte@vaildaily.com

WB I-70 reopened after wildland fire near Avon forces brief closure

A wildland fire in Avon caused an I-70 closure Monday afternoon.
Photo courtesy Ivan Ricardez

A wildland fire in Avon closed Interstate 70 in both directions at mile marker 167 on the afternoon of Monday, June 14.

According to witnesses, there were multiple spot fires along the roadway. The fires were quickly extinguished, and the interstate reopened.

Last week, an 8-acre wildfire closed the eastbound lanes of I-70 near Dillon. That fire is now 100% contained. While the cause of the fire is still being investigated, roadside fires are often the result the dragging chains or discarded cigarettes.

The fire danger in Summit County increased to very high as temperatures around western Colorado are smashing records this week, and there isn’t much relief in either the short-term forecast or long-term outlook for summer, said Michael Charnick, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Grand Junction.

“We’re near record level for pretty much all of our major towns across western Colorado,” Charnick said. “That’s going be continuing (Monday, Tuesday) and Wednesday.”

Some isolated clouds may make an appearance in the mountains, Charnick said, but those clouds aren’t forecast to bring any rain.

Looking longer out, the trends continue to indicate that this summer will be very similar to last summer with a drier-than-normal forecast and slightly above-normal temperatures.

Looking at the current drought conditions for Eagle County, only a small sliver representing the southeast corner of the county is in severe drought, which is marked by low snowpack, low surface water levels and decreased streamflows.

The largest swath of the county — which includes Vail all the way down to Eagle — is in extreme drought, with conditions ripe for large fires and water restrictions.

Gypsum and the rest of the western end of the county are in exceptional drought conditions, the highest classification on the U.S. Drought Monitor.

“Exceptional drought is still very much alive and well in the West,” Charnick said. “Unfortunately, it doesn’t really look like any sort of major system is on the horizon.”

Drought conditions look better in Summit County, where the far eastern portion is no longer under any level of drought. The reminder of the county remains abnormally dry or in moderate to severe drought.

The towns of Dillon, Frisco and Silverthorne have implemented Stage 1 fire restrictions, which prohibit fires outside of fire rings in designated campsites. Fires on private property require a permit from a local fire district. The Summit Board of County Commissioners is expected to discuss fire restrictions at its meeting Tuesday, June 15. The county government and U.S. Forest Service would work in concert to implement fire restrictions on unincorporated areas of the county and in the White River National Forest.

This story will be updated.

UPDATE: Glenwood Canyon rest areas to remain closed overnight due to flash flood concerns

UPDATE: The Colorado Department of Transportation has extended its safety closure for the Grizzly Creek, Hanging Lake and Shoshone exits/rest areas overnight due to a flash flood watch that remains in effect.

“During a flash flood watch, CDOT has crews and equipment on standby in preparation for a closure of I-70,” the agency advised in a Saturday evening update. “If there is a flash flood warning for the Grizzly Creek burn scar, CDOT will close I-70 in Glenwood Canyon from Exit 116 (Glenwood Springs) to Exit 133 (Dotsero). Only local traffic on I-70 will be allowed east of Exit 109.”

Updates are to be posted to cotrip.org and CDOT’s Twitter page.

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The National Weather Service has issued a flash flood watch for Grizzly Creek burn scar and surrounding areas, effective overnight.

The flood watch was issued just before 2:30 p.m. Saturday and includes the portions of Glenwood Canyon east of Glenwood Springs where the Grizzly Creek Fire burned last summer.

The Colorado Department of Transportation has issued a related safety closure for the rest areas and the recreation path along Interstate 70 in Glenwood Canyon.

“This safety closure will affect the Shoshone Power Plant along with the Grizzly Creek, Hanging Lake and Bair Ranch rest areas due to weather forecasts calling for rainfall above the Grizzly Creek Fire burn scar,” a CDOT alert posted to cotrip.org states.

The larger watch area includes the Colorado River Basin, the Flat Tops and the Gore and Elk Mountain ranges.

“National Weather Service meteorologists are forecasting the potential for heavy rainfall over the Grizzly Creek burn area from thunderstorms,” according to the alert, which was shared via the Pitkin County Emergency Alert system.

“This rain may lead to flash flooding and debris flows over and near the burn scar,” the alert states. “The threat for heavy rain will continue through the early evening hours.”

Anyone within the flood watch area, including motorists traveling Interstate 70 through Glenwood Canyon, are advised to monitor later forecasts and be prepared to take action should a flood warning be issued, the NWS alert states.

Senior Reporter/Managing Editor John Stroud can be reached at 970-384-9160 or jstroud@postindependent.com.

Update: I-70 reopened between Glenwood Springs and No Name

UPDATE: Both westbound lanes and one eastbound lane of Interstate 70, according to a 12:20 a.m. update from Garfield County.

Original story: Interstate 70 is closed in both directions between the Glenwood Springs and No Name exits because of a crash, a Garfield County alert sent shortly before 10:30 p.m. states.

 

UPDATE: I-70 eastbound reopens at Glenwood Springs exit

UPDATE: Interstate 70 eastbound at the Glenwood Springs exit reopened shortly before 4:45 p.m. Saturday, May 15.

Interstate 70 eastbound is closed at the Glenwood Springs exit at mile marker 114 for a crash.

There is no time estimate for when it will reopen.

CDOT issues safety closure for Glenwood Canyon rest areas, bike path at 5 p.m. Sunday over weather concerns

The Colorado Department of Transportation will close rest areas and the recreation path along Interstate 70 in Glenwood Canyon Sunday evening and overnight due to forecast rainfall above the Grizzly Creek Fire burn scar.

The safety closure is anticipated to begin at 5 p.m. and will affect the No Name, Grizzly Creek, Hanging Lake and Bair Ranch rest areas, as well as the bike path connecting the rest areas.

“The closure is anticipated to continue overnight and is necessary for CDOT to be prepared in the event of a safety closure for I-70,” CDOT said in the release. “The rest areas and path will continue to be closed until the forecast improves.”

For now, Interstate 70 continues to be open and is not affected, but CDOT is monitoring the situation closely. Up-to-date conditions will be posted at cotrip.org.

The National Weather Service out of Grand Junction was calling for showers likely and possibly a thunderstorm in the Glenwood Springs area tonight, with a 70% chance of precipitation. Showers and thunderstorms are expected to continue into Monday, with an 80% chance of rain.

Red flag warning in effect for Garfield County from noon until 9 p.m.

Strong winds and dry conditions have prompted a red flag warning, barring any open burning from noon to 9 p.m. Thursday April 8.

“A red flag warning means warm temperatures, very low humidities and stronger winds are expected to combine to produce an increased risk of fire danger,” the Garfield County alert states.

In Garfield County and throughout Western Slope, recent storms barely improve winter snowpack

Elliott Audette leads a tour of a SNOTEL snowpack measurement site on McClure Pass in February 2020.
Courtesy Roaring Fork Conservancy

“Every little bit helps” is the phrase these days, as any amount of snow or rain the clouds can squeeze out through the remainder of this month and into early April will help with the persistent drought situation.

Unfortunately, recent snowstorms did very little to improve the mountain snowpack. And the near-term prediction for measurable precipitation isn’t promising.

That’s according to several sources of data and predictive models tracked by the USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service Colorado Snow Survey Program.

NRCS Hydrologist Karl Wetlaufer noted in his monthly snowpack report issued March 5 that, “While February snow accumulations did improve the snowpack in many parts of the state, snowpack still remains below normal levels in all major basins except the Rio Grande.”

At that time, the Colorado River Basin was at 84% of median snowpack, and just 71% of last year’s snowpack. Statewide, the median snowpack at that time was 85%, and only 77% of last year.

Then came the big one — sort of.

A major snowstorm the weekend of March 13 that mostly blanketed the the foothills and eastern Colorado with up to 2 feet of snow in places did have some impact on the high country snowpack. When it comes to Western Slope water, that’s where it mostly matters.

Just before that storm hit, on March 10, the Colorado River Basin was at 88% of median snowpack.

Likewise, one of the Colorado’s major drainages, the Roaring Fork River, with its headwaters on Independence Pass east of Aspen, was at 84% of median.

Afterwards, the area basin snowpack had improved to 91% and 90%, respectively.

As of Tuesday, with more localized snowfall in recent days, the Roaring Fork drainage had improved to 94% of median.

The NRCS SNOTEL report for Tuesday, March 23 shows the snow measurement sites within the Roaring Fork River basin. The subsequent four columns after each site indicate Snow Water Equivalent by: elevation, current snow depth (inches), median snow depth and current percent of median; and the last three columns indicate the Water Year-To-Date Precipitation by current and average inches, and percent of average.

The National Weather Service forecast for the remainder of this week is for a 60% to 80% chance of snow east of Aspen through Thursday, and then 90% on Friday, but with snow accumulations of only a few inches.

And, according to the NWS Climate Prediction Center, the 8- to 14-day outlook from late March through early April is for temperatures to be above normal throughout Colorado, with below-normal precipitation.

“Taking that into account and the current percent of normal snowpack, we could estimate that the current numbers could go down 1 to 5 percent, if the forecast pans out,” Brian Domonkos, Colorado Snow Survey Supervisor, said Tuesday.

How much of that dwindling snowpack will ultimately translate to water in rivers and reservoirs come spring has to do with the drought that was already well in place before snow began to accumulate this year, he said.

The summer and fall of 2020 was one of the driest periods on record in Colorado.

“This led to dry soil moisture conditions and the expectation is that snowmelt runoff will produce lower volumes than would commonly be observed with a similar snowpack,” Wetlaufer observed in his March 5 report.

Before winter even started, snow forecasters were saying Colorado would need multiple years of 150% to 200% of normal snowpack to improve the drought situation.

Added Domonkos, “The biggest role soil moisture currently has is in the significant deficits that exist across Colorado.

“There is currently a significant soil moisture drought that will consume a greater-than-average amount of snowmelt runoff, and leave less to streamflow runoff,” he said. “To add to the complexity, low soil moisture means lower base flows in rivers and streams, which means more precipitation is needed to bring stream flows back to normal levels.”

jstroud@postindependent.com

In Garfield County, weekend snow storm causes traffic restrictions, optimism for end of ski season

Skiers and boarders alike enjoy a day on the slopes at Sunlight after a March snowstorm in Garfield County.

The weekend precipitation in Colorado favored the Front Range to the Western Slope, but Sunlight Mountain emerged Monday with 22 inches from the past four days. Troy Hawks, Marketing and Sales Director at Sunlight, writes in an email about the resort being three weeks out from closing day on April 4, and how the staff is confident about finishing the season on a high note.

Skiers and boarders alike enjoy a day on the slopes at Sunlight after a March snowstorm in Garfield County.

“(Conditions are) fantastic, we’ve been getting lots and lots of compliments on our groomed terrain in between the storms. Our crews are doing an amazing job keeping up with ever changing conditions — otherwise known as springtime in the Rockies,” Hawks wrote.

The mountain is maintaining an average of a 4 foot base of snow and Hawks wrote that not only can folks come out for snow sports, but that Sunlight will be hosting live music events on March 27 and April 3 and 4. For season pass holders, tickets are currently on sale for 2021-2022 on Sunlight’s website.

Skiers and boarders alike enjoy a day on the slopes at Sunlight after a March snowstorm in Garfield County.

“Our entire staff enjoys seeing our locals and out of area guests alike enjoying this fresh snow. Some are getting first tracks on open runs while others are making snow angels in the base area. We thrive on seeing folks enjoy a great winter experience so this most recent round of snow came at an opportune time,” Hawks wrote.

This weekend’s storm did cause some commotion when it came to traveling along I-70. Jerry Lewis with the Colorado State Patrol said they received a call at 3:34 a.m. on Sunday, March 14 about a semi-truck that had rolled over, caught fire and spilled materials. Lewis said fortunately no one was hurt in the crash. In a separate crash, Elise Thatcher, Northwest Colorado Regional Communications Manager, writes in an email that there was a spill at Debeque on I-70 near Exit 62 that contained a mixture of glue and solvent. The chemicals are highly toxic to people and have a low ignition point, but none of the materials entered the Colorado River, Thatcher wrote.

“CDOT must ensure there are no vehicles near the materials, because those vehicles could spark and ignite the spill. A highly trained crew from Salt Lake is on scene now and working to safely clean up the materials. Because the chemicals require additional mitigation to ensure a safe and thorough cleanup, westbound at Exit 62 continues to be closed. CDOT will reopen traffic as soon as it’s safe. Eastbound continues to be unaffected,” Thatcher wrote.

There were various times on Saturday and Sunday when commercial Motor Vehicles (CMVs) were required to get off I-70 at Dotsero Exit 133. Thatcher wrote it became voluntary at times but the cause was to prevent back-ups in Silverthorne and the chance of vehicles getting stuck in that area during the storm.

“This traffic management was required during I-70 eastbound closures at Silverthorne (Exit 205). … In order to ensure commercial traffic didn’t stack up in Silverthorne and potentially get stuck there during the storm, it was best to prevent truckers from continuing east on I-70 during the Silverthorne closure,” Thatcher wrote.

jpeterson@postindependent.com

 

Semi rollover closes I-70 WB at DeBeque, snowstorm impacts roads across Colorado, Wyoming, Nebraska

A lone pedestrian walks a dog as a snowstorm rips across the intermountain West Sunday, March 14, 2021, in Denver. Forecasters are calling for the storm to leave at least another six inches of snow during the day before moving out on to the eastern plains. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

A powerful late winter snowstorm intensified over the central Rocky Mountains on Sunday with heavy snow and wind leading to airport and road closures, power outages and avalanche warnings in parts of Colorado, Wyoming and Nebraska.

The Colorado Department of Transportation just before 1 p.m. Sunday closed Interstate 70 westbound at DeBeque, due to a rolled semi and hazmat cleanup. It was expected it to remain closed overnight.

“CDOT asks that motorists avoid traveling west along this section of I-70 due to limited detour options and deteriorating driving conditions,” state highways officials said in an early afternoon Facebook post.

Parts of east and westbound I-70 in the mountains and on the Front Range and eastern plains also were closed Sunday afternoon with no estimated reopening time.

The National Weather Service in Wyoming called it a “historic and crippling” winter storm that would cause extremely dangerous to impossible travel conditions through at least early Monday.

Major roads southeast of a line that crosses diagonally from the southwest corner of Wyoming to its northeast corner were closed Sunday, including roads in and out of Cheyenne and Casper.

Over 2 feet of snow had fallen just outside Cheyenne by 9:30 a.m. Saturday, the weather service reported, while other areas around the city had seen 16 to 19 inches. A SNOTEL site at Windy Peak in the Laramie Range reported 52 inches of snow in a 24-hour period ending Sunday morning, the weather service said.

A person who answered the phone at the Love’s Travel Stop in Cheyenne, but declined to give his name, said 98 trucks were stranded there. They were taking fuel out a can at a time to fill up generators on the trucks to keep their refrigerators or freezers running, he said.

Interstate 80 was closed across southern Wyoming and into the Nebraska panhandle, where a foot (30 centimeters) of snow was reported just north of Kimball, Nebraska. Interstate 25 was closed north from Fort Collins, Colorado, to its end at Buffalo, Wyoming.

At Denver International Airport, the runways were closed just before noon Sunday due to blowing snow and poor visibilities.

“Many flights have already been canceled so the runway closures have minimal impacts,” airport officials said in social media posts. A foot of snow fell at DIA on Saturday and another foot was expected Sunday.

The Northern Colorado Regional Airport that serves the Fort Collins and Loveland areas was closed Sunday morning after also receiving a foot of snow, according to the airport’s social media accounts.

An avalanche warning was in effect Sunday for the Rocky Mountains west of Fort Collins, Boulder, Denver and Colorado Springs where “intense snowfall will cause large and destructive avalanches,” Colorado Avalanche Center said. The center warned that avalanches could happen in unusual locations and recommended against traveling in the backcountry.

An avalanche blocked Colorado Highway 14 in north-central Colorado on Sunday, the Department of Transportation said.

Nearly 32,000 Excel Energy customers were without power Sunday in north-central Colorado, while smaller outages were reported in the same area by the Poudre Valley Rural Electric Association

Rocky Mountain Power in Wyoming has reported several outages. At one point overnight, service was interrupted to nearly 2,600 customers in Casper and Glenrock and 2,800 customers in Lander. Just under 1,000 people were without power in the Casper area on Sunday.

The power company expects more service interruptions as the storm continues.

“Heavy snow and drifting conditions from wind is expected to make travel and repair work increasingly difficult today,” Curt Mansfield, vice president of operations for Rocky Mountain Power said in a statement Sunday.

Post Independent reporter John Stroud added the information about the I-70 DeBeque-area closure to this report.