New to the area? Check out these tips to be prepared for winter weather in Colorado
October 15, 2018
Editor's note: This story will be updated throughout the week as information is issued.
DENVER — Gov. John Hickenlooper has proclaimed the week of Sunday, Oct. 14, through Saturday, Oct. 20, as Winter Weather Preparedness Week in Colorado. This is a time for all individuals, families, businesses and schools to review their winter storm preparedness plans. It is especially important for all new arrivals to the state to become familiar with the National Weather Service watch and warning definitions, as well as winter safety procedures.
Snow in Colorado is important to the farmers, the ski areas and for filling up reservoirs. However, winter storms often bring heavy snow, bitter cold air, high winds, low visibility and slick roads. This can lead to dangerous travel conditions and other life-threatening situations, such as avalanches and very frigid wind chill temperatures.
To help prepare for these hazards this coming winter, the National Weather Service offices in Colorado will issue statements throughout the week to discuss winter travel safety; watches, warnings and advisories; high winds; wind chill temperatures and hypothermia; and avalanche safety.
To receive these statements directly to your email inbox, sign up for the Eagle County Alert System at http://www.ecalert.org. For information on winter storms in Colorado, contact the National Weather Service's Grand Junction office at 970-243-7007.
Winter travel safety
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A well-equipped vehicle has adequate tires, tire chains, tow rope, sand or cat litter for traction, shovel, tool kit, windshield scraper and brush, battery cables, first aid kit, flashlight, extra batteries, blankets and/or sleeping bags, extra clothing, candles, waterproof matches, jug of water, high-calorie packaged food for quick energy and an empty can to melt snow for drinking.
During winter weather events, the best way to prevent treacherous winter travel is to avoid it by staying informed about current weather and road conditions, as well as the latest weather forecasts. Information on road conditions in Colorado is available on the web at http://www.cotrip.org or by calling 1-877-315-7623. When calling from anywhere in Colorado, dialing 511 will also access Colorado road reports. Additionally, a free smartphone application, CDOT Mobile, is available.
If you should become stranded during a winter storm, stay with your vehicle and do not panic. If accompanied by others, take turns sleeping. Run the motor every hour for about 10 minutes to maintain warmth, but keep windows open a little to prevent the buildup of carbon monoxide. Make sure the exhaust pipe is not blocked. Keep the car visible with brightly colored cloths tied to the side view mirrors, door handles or external antenna. At night, turn on the dome light when the running the engine. Exercise periodically by vigorously moving arms, legs, toes and fingers.
In the mountains, avalanches become a possibility in the winter, especially below steep slopes. Avalanches occasionally come down across roads with little or no warning. However, avalanche control work is performed on many avalanche-prone roads in Colorado, making the roads safer to travel. Caution is advised when traveling along avalanche-prone roads, especially during and shortly after a heavy snowstorm, as well as during periods of rapid snowmelt.
Very strong downslope winds occur at times, mainly along the Front Range of Colorado. These Chinook and Bora winds can have gusts exceeding 100 mph. Persons planning travel in lightweight or high-profile vehicles should avoid travel during these strong wind events, especially on north-south oriented roads.
Roads that appear to be clear in the wintertime may actually be coated with a thin layer of ice, commonly known as black ice. This nearly invisible ice layer can cause you to rapidly lose control of your vehicle. Black ice is most common during the nighttime hours. If you detect black ice, you should reduce your speed.
A Hazardous Weather Outlook is issued daily by each National Weather Service office serving Colorado. The outlook provides information on potentially hazardous weather out to seven days into the future. Also, the Weather Story, a graphic of expected hazardous weather, is posted daily on National Weather Service websites serving Colorado.
A Winter Storm Watch is issued when hazardous winter storm conditions are possible within the next three to four days, but the timing, intensity or occurrence may still be uncertain.
In contrast, a Winter Storm Warning is issued for potentially life-threatening winter storm conditions, such as heavy snowfall or a combination of snowfall and blowing snow, which are likely to occur within the next one to two days.
Warning criteria for heavy snow is defined by the following amounts:
- Mountains: 12 inches or more per storm event; or
- Lower elevations: 6 inches or more per storm event; or
- An early-season or late-season snowfall event having a significant impact but not meeting the above criteria.
A Blizzard Warning is issued when the following conditions are expected to occur for at least three hours: Sustained winds of 35 mph or greater and considerable falling and/or drifting snow with visibilities frequently less than 1/4 mile.
A High Wind Warning is issued for the following conditions:
- Mountains: Sustained winds 50 mph or more or gusts of at least 75 mph.
- Lower elevations: Sustained winds of 40 mph or more or gusts of at least 58 mph.
A Wind Chill Warning will be issued for the following wind chill temperatures:
- Mountains: Minus 35 degrees Fahrenheit or colder.
- Lower elevations: Minus 25 degrees Fahrenheit or colder.
A Dust Storm Warning will be issued when visibility is reduced to 1/4 mile or less in blowing dust, with sustained winds of 25 mph or greater for at least one hour.
Advisories for winter weather are issued for potentially hazardous conditions that are considered more of a nuisance than a life-threatening situation. However, if caution is not taken the advisory events could become life threatening.