Good evening, Southwest Colorado, and welcome to the 62nd day of winter. We’ll keep this story updated with cancellations, road conditions and weather forecasts. Here’s what you need to know as of 6 p.m.:
Friday closuresDurango School District 9-R has canceled Friday classes, the second day in a row the district will be closed and the third snow day this week. Mountain Middle School, Animas High School and Bayfield School District also canceled Friday classes.
The Ignacio School District has not yet determined if it will cancel classes Friday.
Coal Bank Pass reopensU.S. Highway 550 north of Durango on Coal Bank Pass opened Thursday about 4:40 p.m. It had been closed earlier in the day for winter maintenance operations, including avalanche control work.
Red Mountain Pass remains open. Wolf Creek is open as of Thursday afternoon, but will close 6 a.m. Friday for avalanche mitigation.
The southern San Juan Mountains are at a high avalanche risk, according to the Colorado Avalanche Information Center.
Clear your roofsLa Plata County’s Office of Emergency Management director Butch Knowlton said with all the snow, there is a serious risk of roofs caving in.
At 30-inch depth, the snow weighs 45 pounds per square foot – or 22.5 tons across a 1,000 square foot roof. That’s the size of 5 full-sized pickup trucks, Knowlton said.
Residents are encouraged to clear their roofs. Knowlton also pointed out the imminent danger if there was rain after all this snow, which would add more weight.
“With the snow depth we have, if its’ not removed, this is the greatest single concern we have,” he said.
This is just the startForecasters say the snow will continue for much of the day, Thursday night and through midday Friday. A few intermittent breaks are possible, but for the most part, it will be a slow, steady snowfall similar to what occurred Wednesday night, said Kris Sanders, meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Grand Junction.
Cold temperatures from of the north will keep the snow light and fluffy – less dense than a storm last week that was part of an atmospheric river that carried warm, wet air from the Southern Pacific.
The storm will push out of the area Friday afternoon or Friday night, he said.
Once the weekend arrives, it is expected to be dry through Thursday.
Overnight snow totals for Wednesday included 6 inches in Durango, 8 inches in Rockwood, 13 inches near Hesperus and a foot of snow in the higher peaks of the San Juan Mountains, he said.
Sanders said Thursday morning he expects Durango to receive another 6 to 8 inches from the storm, bringing the storm total to 12 to 15 inches of snow.
Flights continue to flyTony Vicari, director of the Durango-La Plata County Airport, said snow-removal crews have been working to keep the runway clear.
All departures left on time Thursday morning, Vicari said.
“But it’s likely we will see delays throughout the day,” he said. “Make sure to check with your airline beforehand, and take it slow on the road.”
Digging out of droughtA good portion of Southwest Colorado has once again been downgraded on the U.S. Drought Monitor’s drought scale as the region continues to be pummeled with snow.
Every Thursday, the U.S. Drought Monitor releases a map of the U.S. showing where drought conditions exists, and to what severity, on a scale of D1 to D4.
The Four Corners was listed at varying levels of drought until April 17, 2018, when the region was listed in the most extreme category, the D4 “exceptional drought.”
But slowly, Southwest Colorado has been digging its way out of the drought. Last month, the U.S. Drought Monitor downgraded most of Southwest Colorado to the D3, extreme drought category.
And on Thursday, La Plata and Montezuma counties were dropped to D2, severe drought.
All this is welcome news, but it doesn’t mean the drought is over. Many parts of Southwest Colorado, including San Juan County, remain in the D3, extreme drought category.
Offices close earlyLa Plata County offices will close at 3 p.m. Thursday. All meetings after 3 p.m. were canceled, including a Joint Planning Commission meeting with the city of Durango and La Plata County officials.
La Plata Electric Association offices in Durango and Pagosa Springs will close at 3:30 p.m.
Schools closedDurango, Bayfield and Ignacio school districts canceled classes today as a result of a severe winter storm that dropped about 6 inches of snow in Durango overnight and was expected to continue producing snow today across Southwest Colorado.
Mountain Middle School, Animas High School, Fort Lewis College and Pueblo Community College in Mancos and Durango are also closed today for weather, as are schools in Pagosa Springs.
Schools in Montezuma and Dolores counties are also closed today. Montezuma-Cortez School District RE-1 also announced changes to the district’s basketball tournament. Games will now take place Saturday and Monday.
Wolf Creek Pass on U.S. Highway 160 east of Pagosa Springs was closed from 6 a.m. to 8 a.m. for winter maintenance operations, including avalanche control work. Drivers should expect lengthy delays.
The National Weather Service issued a winter storm warning until 5 p.m. Friday, calling for up to 12 inches of snow from this storm. But local amateur weather observer Jeff Givens said he believes the storm could deliver up to 20 inches of snow.
Even the recycling center closedThe city of Durango closed its recycling center at the Tech Center in west Durango until further notice. “We appreciate the community’s sustainability efforts, but please wait to drop off materials until the storm has passed,” the city wrote in a tweet.
Snow limits accessibilityGetting around in the snow is tough for anyone. It’s slippery, it gets in the way. People with disabilities are often challenged by mobility, and piles of snow and unshoveled sidewalks make an already difficult task arduous, said Bailey Carlson, lead direct support professional at Community Connections, a nonprofit that helps people with disabilities access the same opportunities as other community members.
Snow has been piled in handicap parking spots around the city, Carlson said. She’s called the city about it, but hasn’t gotten a response. They’re probably busy with snow removal, she said. Levi Llyod, director of City Operations, and Amber Blake, assistant city manager, did not immediately respond to request for comment.
People with disabilities often can’t park in regular parking spots around the city because the spots are either too compact to get a wheelchair out of or too far away for someone with limited mobility.
“The fact that they are piled up with snow means the individuals with disabilities are having trouble accessing their community,” Carlson said. “Help the people out. Clear the spots and give everyone access. We all have a right and we all deserve it.”