With snow still looming in the nearby San Juan Mountains, Lake City prepares for a deadly spring runoff
LAKE CITY — The San Juan Mountains loom white and ripe with an overloaded snowpack above this small town in south-central Colorado. Some 38 feet of snow fell in the San Juans this winter. Most of that snowpack, still nearly 200% more than normal, clings hard to the steep sides of the Continental Divide that forms the spine of the San Juans.
The long, warming days of June soon will begin the melt.
During a normal spring runoff, snowmelt arrives in Lake City mainly in the form of a rushing tumult swelling Henson Creek and the Lake Fork of the Gunnison River. Both streams run right through the heart of Lake City, where they join and then flow on to Blue Mesa Reservoir.
But nothing about this spring’s runoff is normal.
In March, that abnormally large and unstable snowpack ravaged the steep mountain country around Lake City with avalanches. Hinsdale County Sheriff Justin Casey and his two daughters narrowly escaped death when an early morning avalanche crushed their house and barn on Hinsdale County Road 30, just south of Lake City. But Casey’s close call wasn’t the lone slide. There were dozens more. Highways were temporarily closed. County roads were shut down. Homes were evacuated. The avalanches, some a mile wide and dozens of feet deep, some on slopes that had never avalanched before, churned into the valley bottoms, choking the stream and creek beds with dense walls of broken trees, boulders, rocks, mud, gravel and snow.
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