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Blizzard conditions prompt numerous closures

In case you missed it, a major winter storm moved across Pagosa Country earlier this week, depositing at least 21 inches of new snow on the Pagosa Lakes vicinity, with 49 inches reported at Wolf Creek Ski Area.

By Tuesday evening, in the wake of virtual blizzard conditions, and then gradually clearing skies, temperatures plummeted to seasonal low readings.

The storm began Monday with heavy snow developing over much of the region well before noon. Road conditions quickly deteriorated, some businesses closed early and various organizations began rescheduling planned meetings and events for later dates.

Due to adverse weather conditions and poor visibility, the west side of Wolf Creek Pass (and numerous other mountain highways) officially closed Monday afternoon. Monday night, the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) recorded winds at the summit in excess of 100 miles per hour, reportedly the most powerful in 16 years.

By mid-morning Tuesday, the Archuleta County offices, Archuleta County schools (including the Education Center, Seeds of Learning and Savior Lutheran Preschool), the Pagosa Municipal Court, the senior center, community center and San Juan Basin Health Department were all closed for the day. Pagosa Springs town offices opened with limited staff, and the Ruby Sisson Memorial Library delayed its opening until 10:30 a.m. Mountain Express did not provide transportation services that day.

Meanwhile, the La Plata Electric Association reported isolated power outages across the region, while a non-weather-related water-main break apparently left several Pagosa Area Water and Sanitation District (PAWSD) customers with little or no water service for a time.

By early yesterday morning, pagosacam.com reported 21 inches of snow in the previous 72 hours, while Wolf Creek Ski Area reported 49 inches over the same period. Year-to-date, local weather observer Toby Karlquist has recorded 31 total inches of snow in Twin Creek Village west of Pagosa Springs, as Wolf Creek has measured 137 inches thus far this year, with 56 inches in just the last seven days.

According to CDOT spokesperson Nancy Shanks, the west side of Wolf Creek Pass suffered a dozen natural avalanches during the storm, five of which managed to reach the highway. By 9:30 a.m. yesterday, when the pass finally reopened, conditions had improved to where CDOT crews considered further slide relief work unnecessary.

Though the ski area opened on time yesterday, the Alberta Lift, Water Fall area, Alberta Peak area, Knife Ridge and Horseshoe Bowl suffered delayed openings, due to needed avalanche mitigation work.

Meanwhile, according to the Colorado Avalanche Information Center, an avalanche warning continued through Wednesday for the entire San Juan Range, including Wolf Creek Pass. The center listed the danger level as “high” and advised all backcountry travelers to avoid avalanche terrain and known avalanche run-out paths until further notice.

While the season’s first significant storm has now swept across much of the nation, weather forecasters are calling for another possibility of snow in Pagosa from tomorrow night through Sunday. By press time yesterday, the chances of precipitation were listed as just 20 percent, with no accumulations predicted.

The National Weather Service believes today will be partly sunny, with a high in the low 20s. Tonight’s low should dip into the single digits, with 5- to 10-mph winds resulting in wind chill values of near minus 25 degrees.

A gradual “warm-up” begins tomorrow under mostly cloudy skies, with daytime temperatures reaching the low 30s and nighttime lows falling to the middle teens. Through Sunday, daytime readings will hover in the middle 30s, with lows remaining in the mid-teens.

On Monday, again under mostly cloudy skies, daytime highs should reach the upper 30s, with lows dipping to the upper teens. Tuesday could bring slightly more moderate readings, with highs possibly surpassing the 40-degree mark.

For now, the actual start of winter is just 11 days away. With that in mind, Pagosa Springs has already matched its average December snowfall total, and exceeded its annual precipitation total by 0.24 inches.

chuck@pagosasun.com