Traveling through the Western Slope for Thanksgiving? Brace for winter 2.0 on the return trip Friday-Saturday
A small window for smooth Thanksgiving holiday travel Wednesday could close rather abruptly on Thursday and Friday, as another major winter storm pushes into Colorado.
After Tuesday’s storm wreaked havoc along the Interstate 70 corridor and across the Front Range and Eastern Plains, Wednesday’s forecast called for sunny but cold weather across the state.
Come Thursday, though, another storm is pushing into the southwest part of the state and is expected to be a mostly Western Slope event, according to the National Weather Service in Grand Junction.
“We’re expecting some pretty good snowfall totals, especially in the higher elevations,” Scott Stearns, regional NWS meteorologist, said Tuesday.
The Glenwood Springs area is only expected to see about 2 to 4 inches of snow, he said. But parts of the San Juan Mountains along the U.S. 550 corridor could see as much as 25 to 30 inches of snow, while I-70 over Vail Pass is in for about 6 to 10 inches, Stearns said.
Snow is expected to start falling in the southwest part of the state Wednesday night, and spread across the region into Thursday and Friday.
Depending on the elevation, there’s a 90% chance of either snow or rain on Friday throughout the region. The Denver-area forecast calls for a slight chance of rain and/or snow on Friday but clearing on Saturday and Sunday.
“We’re really stressing the fact that travel could be fairly hazardous, especially on Friday,” Stearns said.
The longer-term forecast shows signs of clearing into next week, with neutral conditions over the Pacific Ocean. That means the storm pattern is less predictable, compared to the more active El Nino or La Nina conditions, he said.
As for the front end of the holiday travel stretch, an already busy travel day on Wednesday could be even busier as Tuesday’s wintry weather caused delays for some.
The Wednesday before Thanksgiving is already the biggest travel day of the year, be it by plane, train or automobile, according to AAA.
“Coloradans traveling Wednesday should plan for lengthy delays, as folks with earlier travel plans instead join them on the roads and at the airport on what was already the single-busiest travel day of the period,” AAA Colorado advised in a Monday press release.
AAA suggests Thanksgiving Day or Saturday as better travel days, and Friday if the weather permits. Sunday, when the bulk of holiday travelers make their return trip, is another day to avoid, if possible.
As for Wednesday travelers, “To skip the stress of sitting in traffic, avoid commuting times in major cities altogether, or plan alternative routes,” AAA Colorado spokesman Skyler McKinley said in the release.
The Colorado Department of Transportation reminds motorists that travel through the mountains should be avoided if your vehicle is not equipped for winter travel.
“Chain and passenger traction laws are in place across the state, particularly on the I-70 mountain corridor,” CDOT advised in its Tuesday morning travel update.
“Do not consider going out unless your vehicle is equipped for the snow. Winter tires with adequate tread is essential. You must take it slow, do not pass plows, leave a safe space behind the vehicle ahead, and expect road closures.”
Gas prices are not expected to hinder holiday travel in Colorado, according to AAA. The statewide average for a gallon of gas was $2.73 as of Nov. 20, up 18 cents from this time last year. In Glenwood Springs, that average was $3.16 per gallon, while Vail is the most expensive place to get gas along the I-70 corridor at $3.30 per gallon.
“Coloradans have become accustomed to this year’s more expensive gas prices and won’t let higher fuel costs deter them from taking Thanksgiving road trips,” McKinley predicted.
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