A wintry weekend awaits

First snowfall of the season expected to hit mountains hard

It may be just about time to break out the snow shovels and snow tires again.

Montezuma County is expected to get the first snowfall of the year throughout the weekend.

Paul Frisbie of the National Weather Service in Grand Junction said the weather front will start out as rain before turning into snow.

Frisbie, however, does not expect to see too much snow during this front and said there will be just enough to possibly cover the ground and wet the roadways.

However, the latest forecast called for the Four Corners area to receive between two and four inches of snow on Friday night and Saturday.

He said the county will see more freezing rain than snow over the weekend, but still called the storm significant. It is expected to travel north with large snow amounts expected for northern Colorado and southeastern Wyoming.

The NWS forecaster said the best chance of snow will be this morning with occasional snow showers throughout the day, though snow is also expected for Sunday.

“This is a pretty big system,” Frisbie said “It’s been awhile since we have seen a weather system like this.”

Frisbie said the mountains around Montezuma County will receive a significant amount of snow this weekend with the lower elevations receiving six to 12 inches and the higher mountains receiving one to two feet.

According to the Colordao Avalanche Information Center’s report on Thursday, Nov. 8, snowfall was expected to start to affect the San Juan Mountains early Friday morning. The brunt of the storm was to arrive in western Colorado late Friday night and spread eastward today. A period of moderate to heavy snow is likely for all mountain locations today.

Colorado Department of Transportation maintenance crews are in mountain areas on standby for winter storm patrols. This means maintenance area crews are out on 24-hour operation, either on rotating eight- or 12-hour shifts — until they reach dry road conditions.

“We’re prepared for a foot of snow on both the US 550 and SH 145 passes throughout this storm,” Colorado Department of Transportation Maintenance Area Foreman Paul Wilson said in a press release. “Relatively speaking, this isn’t much snow, but motorists should expect some ice on the passes early tomorrow morning, and snow pack as the day goes on. As always, we want people to take it slow and plan ahead by checking road conditions and restrictions posted on our www.cotrip.org site.”

The Cortez Maintenance Area includes patrols in Dove Creek, Cortez, Mancos, Dolores, Rico and Telluride. The Cortez Area has 31 maintenance workers and 37 pieces of snow removal and avalanche equipment, including 23 snowplows.

Cortez maintenance crews take care of 650.8 lane-miles. Last winter, Cortez maintenance crews plowed 133,975.62 total lane-miles. As well, crews sprayed 306,899 gallons of liquid de-icer; spread 6,284.25 tons of sand/salt and spent 143 hours on avalanche control missions.

Frisbie added that after this weather system, warm weather will return to the county, though rain is forecast for Thursday with more snow on Friday.

The city and county will be keeping a close eye on the changing weather, though the expected little snow this weekend will not result in any extra work.

Cortez City Manager Shane Hale said the city usually does not start plowing the roads until two inches of snow or more accumulates, and then will plow based on priority with Main Street, Empire Avenue and Mildred Road being the first streets that will be plowed.

The second priority will be arterial streets and roads by schools, which will include Montezuma Avenue, Hale said.

The third priority the city will concentrate on is the downtown area with residential streets being the last place where snowplows will be sent.

Hale said when there is a significant amount of snow that has fallen or is falling the city starts plowing at 4 a.m. and mentioned that they have six snowplows that will be in operation, including a brine truck, which is a salt mixture that helps prevent the streets from getting too icy.

Montezuma County Roads Supervisor Dean Roundtree said the county does not have a set amount of snow in deciding when to begin plowing streets, but added the standard used to be after three inches of accumulation.

“If it is two inches and still snowing we will get out there,” Roundtree said. “Three inches is the rule of thumb.”

Like the city, Roundtree said the county will concentrate on the “best” streets first, which are school bus routes, though he stressed that every street where there are residents will eventually be plowed.

Roundtree said the county can get 20 to 22 different types of plow vehicles onto the roads to plow the roads when that much work is needed.

He also said the heaviest snow storms usually occur around the first of the year.

CDOT is recommending tips for motorists for this winter season, including:

Always keep the top half of the gas tank full to give better traction and a bigger margin of error if the vehicle gets stuck and the engine needs to run periodically to keep warm.

If stuck in a serious storm, do not leave the car. Run the engine periodically and wait for help.

Carry blankets, water, a flashlight, a shovel, some nutrition bars or other food for sustenance.

Winterize the vehicle’s safety kit by including extra blankets, sand to help gain traction in the event the vehicle become stuck on ice or snow, jumper cables, an ice scraper and lock de-icer.

Be sure of the route. Don’t go exploring in the back-country without some local knowledge, especially during a storm or when one is bearing down.

Be sure to have good tires. The Colorado State Patrol recommends at least one-eighth of an inch tread depth. All season radials on a front-wheel-drive passenger vehicle are adequate for most situations. Four snow tires on most rear-wheel drive vehicles are usually adequate.

In poor visibility or even white out conditions, don’t drive faster than visibility allows. High speeds in poor or no visibility can lead to large chain reaction accidents.

CDOT reminds all motorists to respect winter weather, conduct a pre-trip inspection of the vehicle, leave extra space between your automobile and others on the road, and never drink and drive.

michaelm@cortezjournal.com