Wind wreaks havoc on Interstate 70, but snow is on the way | VailDaily.com

Wind wreaks havoc on Interstate 70, but snow is on the way

Jack Queen
jqueen@summitdaily.com

High winds gusting up to 75 miles per hour wreaked havoc on Interstate 70 throughout Friday morning, shattering windshields and tipping over at least two semi-trucks near Georgetown.

No injuries were reported, but I-70 was closed to all vehicles from Golden to Dotsero between 9 and 10 a.m. That stretch of road remained closed to high-profile commercial vehicles taller than 16 feet until 12:30 p.m., although a high wind advisory remained in place.

Meanwhile, dozens of Friday morning flights were delayed at Denver International Airport because of the high winds, although travel returned to normal by early afternoon.

"Winds this severe are unusual but not unprecedented," said meteorologist Joel Gratz. "But 75 mile per hour winds in the foothills takes a pretty special set of circumstances."

Winds bring heavy snow

The winds mark the beginning of a heavy storm rolling in, and they had likely been intensified by sunlight, which tends to push gusts down closer to the ground, Gratz said.

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He predicted that by mid-morning today the winds would calm down considerably — and the snow would start falling.

The Colorado Department of Transportation started traffic restrictions at around 3 a.m. on Friday due to the winds but lifted them at 6 a.m. They were quickly re-imposed after a semi-truck tipped over near Georgetown.

That stretch of road just east of the Continental Divide was the biggest problem area, where crews reported powerful gusts so strong they had blown out windshields.

A spokeswoman said the decision to initially lift the restrictions was made in consultation with weather forecasters and the Colorado State Patrol, and that CDOT didn't regret doing so despite the overturned semi.

U.S. Highway 6 was later closed to all vehicles at Loveland Pass for roughly 30 minutes from 10:15 to 10:45 a.m.

CDOT winter operations manager David Johnson said the closure was likely due to the high winds, which can not only tip large commercial vehicles but also obscure visibility by blowing snow over the narrow, two-lane, mountain pass.

Battling the blaze

The high winds first rolled in around midnight on Friday and by 6 a.m. were gusting up to 100 mph at the highest elevations, according to weather instruments on Berthoud Pass.

The gusts caused a controlled slash burn at the Summit County Resource Allocation Park to briefly become out of control, sending flames 80 feet into the air.

Firefighters from Lake Dillon Fire-Rescue were able to quickly get the blaze back under control, a spokesman said, and crews at Summit County Resource Allocation Park were using heavy machinery to build up snow berms around the pile to further contain the fire.

The spokesman said the fire would likely continue for several days and asked that residents not call 911 to report it.

Snow would presumably start falling in Summit County by mid-morning on Saturday, Gratz predicted, and accumulations at local ski areas could be as high as 10 inches by the evening.

Breckenridge Ski Resort was predicted to get the most snow, but Copper Mountain, Keystone and A-Basin weren't far behind.

Conditions will likely be dry, warm and sunny Monday through Friday of next week, with the subsequent batch of stormy weather rolling in around Feb. 18.