Avalanches bury stretches of I-70, as CDOT braces for more snow
Portions of Interstate 70 in Summit County were shut down for hours Thursday, due to both natural avalanches and mitigation efforts, and the Colorado Department of Transportation is bracing for more storms heading into the weekend.
The National Weather Service in Grand Junction issued a winter storm warning above 8,000 feet in elevation from Friday morning to Saturday morning, as another system moves across the mountains.
The number of avalanches has not yet been estimated by the Colorado Avalanche Information Center, but director Ethan Greene said what he’s seeing is historic.
“We spend a lot of time talking to observers and people retired from the avalanche center, people retired from CDOT” about avalanches, Greene said.
“I think it’s pretty safe to say that nobody that is alive has seen a week like this,” Greene said.
“Every inch of avalanche terrain is extremely dangerous today,” CAIC said in a statement Thursday. “Avalanches are running to valley floors and some are exceeding historic run outs.”
CAIC upgraded avalanche risk to extreme for the Aspen and Vail areas, as well as Gunnison and Summit counties Thursday. Extreme is the highest risk level.
Several natural avalanches shut down parts of I-70 and other roads in the mountains for most of Thursday, forcing passenger vehicles through alternate routes, and causing commercial vehicles to find places to park.
Around 1 a.m. Thursday, a natural avalanche covered portions of the westbound lanes on I-70 between Copper Mountain and Frisco, CDOT spokesperson Tracy Trulove said. Avalanche mitigation efforts brought down more snow along the road, nearly 100 feet wide and 15 feet deep in some places, she said, which had to be cleaned up.
An avalanche near the Conoco station at Copper Mountain ruptured a natural-gas line early Thursday.
CDOT advised drivers to avoid traversing the mountains if possible throughout the day.
Shortly after CDOT announced Thursday afternoon that U.S. Highway 91 between Copper Mountain and Leadville was reopened and commercial trucks were allowed to go over the pass, another avalanche forced crews to shut down the highway again.
Despite the hazardous roads and economic loss due to closed roads, the high precipitation means snowpack across the state is far above normal.
“Statewide, our snowpack as of now 127 percent of normal” according to SNOTEL data, said Jimmy Fowler, meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Grand Junction.
Colorado has also surpassed the normal peak snowpack for the season nearly a month ahead of schedule.
“We have now eclipsed our normal peak, which usually happens not until this time next month,” Fowler said.