Blustery storm shuts roads in Rockies
THE ROCKY MOUNTAINS (AP) ” A winter storm packing snow and wind gusts to 75 mph blew across the Colorado Rockies on Thursday, knocking down trees, causing accidents and shutting down roads including heavily traveled Interstate 70 west of Denver.
Drivers slowed to a crawl on icy, snowpacked roads in the mountains an hour outside Denver. Vehicles slid off the highway near Georgetown and farther west, on Vail Pass, said Eric Escudero of the Colorado Department of Transportation. Vail Pass and Loveland Pass were closed at various times due to weather and accidents.
Linda Rohlinger of Santa Monica, Calif., left Boulder for Vail around 11 a.m. but had traveled only 60 miles in three hours. She and her husband stopped in Georgetown for lunch after inching through stop-and-go traffic at 5 mph for miles.
“I felt like we were on the 405 in Los Angeles,” said Rohlinger, 40. “I’ve been coming up to Colorado for 14 years, and I’ve never seen it like this.”
At the Eisenhower Tunnel, where I-70 knifes under the Continental Divide, traffic was stopped each hour to let vehicles carrying hazardous materials pass through before Loveland Pass reopened. Heavy snow was falling on the west side of the tunnel, and the road was icy.
“It’s packed and barely moving,” said Amanda Henson at the visitors center in Georgetown.
At the nearby Happy Cooker, server Stephanie Mellon said the restaurant was packed.
“Everybody’s all grumpy because they didn’t get to go skiing,” she said. “Everybody had the same story. They were going skiing, the roads were terrible, people were sliding all around.”
Snow and blowing snow advisories were issued for much of the northern and central mountains, with up to 12 inches expected at higher elevations and gusts of up to 40 mph.
Back in Georgetown, Rohlinger was getting ready to head back out onto I-70.
“We expected there to be some delay because it’s a holiday weekend and there’s snow, but not as much as we experienced,” she said. “The drive has been beautiful, with the snow on the ground and on the trees, despite the time it’s taking.”
Looking at the bigger picture, meteorologists say Colorado seems to have returned to a normal winter storm pattern, with wave after wave of Pacific moisture rolling onshore and delivering a steady series of dumps across the Northern Rockies.
Ski resorts in the northern and central mountains have been reporting record snowfalls in recent weeks. And there’s more snow on the way, with the forecast for the next several days calling for repeated waves of moisture.
“It’s a very progressive, active Pacific Ocean,” said Colorado Avalanche Information Center forecaster Scott Toepfer.
Another storm is due Saturday night, with another system ringing in the New Year with fresh powder Monday night into Tuesday, Toepfer said.
The recent series of storms has been originating in the central Pacific rather than the Gulf of Alaska, which means the temperatures have been slightly warmer than average.
Summit County correspondent Bob Berwyn contributed to this report.