EAGLE COUNTY — Put your skis in the car and tell your boss that you’re too well to work, and you’re going skiing instead.
It’s a powder day.
A winter storm that stalled over the region could dump between a foot and a half and 2 feet of white gold before it starts to migrate east later tonight, says the National Weather Service.
Local schools are closed today because of the snow, the first snow day in recent memory.
A quick search indicates the last snow day local students enjoyed appears to be Feb. 8, 2008, also a Friday. Before that you had to go back to 1982. Students went to school that day, but it snowed more than a foot between the opening bell and 11 a.m. Students were loaded on the buses and taken home before it got any worse.
Before 1982, you could count school closings on one hand. Battle Mountain High School, back when it was in Eagle-Vail, closed once because of frozen pipes, but no one can quite remember when. Memories of longtime residents seem to recall one other snow day in the 1970s.
A decade or so ago, schools closed when an avalanche closed a highway, probably U.S. Highway 24, and the school district couldn’t bus students around. There was some talk about sending kids from the western end of the valley to school, but in the end, the district closed school for everyone.
Lake County, home to the highest school district in North America, has been holding classes since mining began in 1860. It has had one snow day in all that time, in 2012, said Kate Bartlett, of the Lake County school district.
Colorado Mountain College in Edwards will also be closed today. All events and classes are canceled.
Storm is stuck
The Vail area was hammered with 20 inches in some areas by Thursday night. Another 10-20 inches could fall by the end of today, said Jim Daniels, meteorologist with the National Weather Service.
A moist and complicated system settled over the Central Rockies on Wednesday. A cold front dropping down from central Canada and the plains collided with a moist Pacific system that rolled into the area Wednesday, Daniels said.
So far, the storm seems focused on the Interstate 70 corridor, Daniels said. It should start to move to the east by tonight.
That’s because a persistent low pressure system over the eastern half of the country has kept the storm from leaving our area, but it should migrate east by the weekend, Daniels said.
The snow from this storm has been heavy with high moisture content, Daniels said.
The jet stream is flowing from west to east, and that’s what brought this storm to us.
“That maintains a consistent pipeline into the Central Rockies, bringing abundant and persistent snow,” Daniels said.
That pattern of Pacific storms rolling in from the west should stay with us for the next 10 days or so, Daniels said. He forecasts more snow Monday, and still more later in the week.
Vail Pass was closed for a few hours early Thursday morning when a truck spun out, but as of deadline Thursday night, crews from the Colorado Department of Transportation had kept Interstate 70 open in both directions.
They did it the same way any war is won, with massive numbers of men and machines.
In the Vail Valley, CDOT has 15 snowplows working west of Vail Pass, and nine additional snowplows on Vail Pass, keeping eastbound I-70 open, said CDOT spokesperson Tracy Trulove.
Those crews are working 12-hour-long snow shifts. The crews are comprised of 39 people or more, just along the Eagle County stretch of I-70, as well as U.S. Highways 6 and 24.
Around 5:30 a.m. Thursday, a truck spun out and closed I-70 for a few hours.
When the road closes, trucks are parked in places such as Dotsero and atop Vail Pass.
CDOT has their heavy tow trucks running laps through the area, Trulove said. Commercial tow trucks are also circulating through the area — sort of like sharks — looking for stranded vehicles.
“Common sense is not always common,” said Josh Lewis, with the Colorado State Patrol. “Speed limits hare for dry and clear highways.”
Make sure you know your route and that others know it too.
“If you don’t have to go out, don’t. If you do have to go out, give yourself twice as much time to reach your destination,” Lewis said.
Also, trust in four-wheel drive is sometimes misplaced.
“In the High Country, four-wheel drive vehicles are fairly common. People forget that four-wheel drive does not equal four-wheel stop. Give yourself plenty of room between other vehicles,” Lewis said.
Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 and firstname.lastname@example.org.