Vail-area plow trucks prepared for winter storm
Vail, CO Colorado
EAGLE COUNTY, Colorado – With 6 to 12 inches of snow forecasted around Vail through Wednesday night, it’s inevitable that this October snow storm catches somebody off guard – the snow tires aren’t on yet, the windshield wiper blades are dull or winter coats are buried away deep in storage closets.
The Colorado Department of Transportation and local municipalities are prepared early on, however – so prepared that CDOT had 25 snow-plow trucks in the area ready to go as of early Tuesday morning, well before the forecasted winter storm was scheduled to hit upvalley. The upvalley governments that provide snow plowing – Vail, Avon, Minturn and Eagle County – were all prepared as of Tuesday morning, too.
Ashley Mohr, spokeswoman for CDOT, said the Vail Pass area crews were pouring an anti-icing material on the roadway early Tuesday. The anti-icing tries to prevent snow from sticking to the roads by preventing condensation from accumulating as much as possible, she said.
“We’ve got a lot of technologies we’re using, monitoring what the storm is doing and how it’s materializing,” Mohr said. “We can gauge how much (snow) will stick to the road and decide what (materials) we put in the trucks.”
The winter storm warning, which is in effect until 6 p.m. today and covers Avon to Vail Pass, as well as other Western Slope mountain towns, isn’t uncommon for this time of year. Town of Vail engineer Tom Kassmel said local crews typically anticipate storms this time of year because October snowfalls are fairly common.
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While weather patterns entered a La Nina pattern in August, this storm is unrelated, said Dennis Phillips, a forecaster with the National Weather Service in Grand Junction. The region won’t see the effects of La Nina until December or so, he said. La Nina winters have brought massive snowfalls to the area in recent years, including record-setting snow last winter.
“This is just an early season storm pushing through,” Phillips said. “This is kind of the transition season before winter. You’ll start to see a few systems break off and move through. Snow forecasting (this time of year) can be tricky because there’s still some warm air.”
The cold air that was expected to move in early today, however, should keep upvalley temperatures around freezing, he said. Snow is expected to continue throughout Wednesday, with the rest of the week looking dry as of now.
Another storm system behind this one could push through by the late weekend, but Phillips said it’s too early to know how that will materialize.
With early season storms like these, warm air makes a snow level prediction tough because it’s more convective, Phillips said, meaning the air rises.
“Sometimes that convection can drive snow levels down,” Phillips said, adding that predicting those snow levels can often be a “nightmare.”
In the winter when the air is cold all of the time, it’s much easier to predict that precipitation will fall as snow, not rain, which helps the accuracy of those weather forecasts.
That kind of accurate forecasting is exactly what CDOT tries to do in advance of winter storms. CDOT is trying to determine everything from air and pavement temperatures to humidity levels and dew point temperatures. The department monitors road conditions with infrared sensors, thermal mapping and other technologies that include installed road sensors. There’s also technology on each of the plow trucks that monitors similar information, Mohr said.
The monitoring results in decisions about whether to use a sand-salt mixture or magnesium chloride, for example, among other things.
“And it can help us figure which plows are most appropriate, or whether we need two plows at a time,” Mohr said.
For those who pay attention to local weather patterns for personal reasons – be it skiing, school closures or simply because they want to know when to start shoveling the driveway – early storms such as these can be bitter for some and sweet for others.
Courtney Shaw said via the Vail Daily Facebook page that she wishes winter would hold out until November because she loves Colorado summers. But Matt Jones, of Eagle, said winter is supposed to be long in the Rocky Mountains.
“Why would (early snow) be anything but exciting?” Jones said. “It’s ski season in a ski town.”
Community Editor Lauren Glendenning can be reached at 970-748-2983 or firstname.lastname@example.org.