Thousands of Vehicles Abandoned On Major Roads
By Trevor Phipps and Rick Langenberg
Just as everyone thought winter was coming to an end, a vicious storm ripped its way through the entire state of Colorado last week, leaving thousands of stranded vehicles, creating hurricane-level winds, and burying sections of the high country with several feet of snow.
In fact, much of the Teller County and the lower Ute Pass region was paralyzed for a day and a half.
Last Wednesday, the state experienced the worst blizzard it has experienced since the infamous storm of 1997.The storm that came in last week was called a “bomb cyclone” due to the extreme drop in barometric pressure. The low pressure readings recorded across the state during the blizzard broke records in Pueblo and Lamar.
The pressure numbers were equivalent to what a category two hurricane would bring. Normally storms of this magnitude stay towards the coastline and this is the first one of its type that has ever hit the center of the continent.
Last Tuesday, weather forecasters saw the storm coming and alerted the area about the vicious blizzard. Due to the possible unprecedented conditions of the storm, many school districts across the state including Teller County, El Paso County, and Denver made the decision to shut down public schools a day before the storm even struck.
The decision to close schools down for two days proved to be a good one as the blizzard broke records across the state for daily precipitation. The highest snow totals were recorded at Wolf Creek Pass as 54 inches of snow fell during the bomb cyclone. In Teller County, amounts close to a foot and a half were recorded.
An area near Colorado Springs saw over an inch of rain fall during the day. In Peyton, a 30-foot-tall tree that was 13 inches in diameter snapped just above ground level.
High winds also broke records as several areas saw gusts of more than 60 miles per hour. In Colorado Springs, wind speeds as high as 97 miles per hour were recorded.
As the storm riddled the south part of the state, towns like Boulder and Fort Collins avoided the brunt of the blizzard and only received a couple of inches of snowfall. However, even though Boulder did not suffer from large amounts of snow the area saw power failures that shut most of the businesses in the city down.
Locally, the storm wreaked havoc on Teller County roads, leaving many people stuck and stranded. By Thursday night there were no tow trucks available in the entire county to assist stuck motorists due to the increase in demand during Wednesday and Thursday.
According to Teller County Sheriff Commander Greg Couch, the county did not get hit as bad as other areas but the storm was severe enough to shut down local roads and many businesses. “Under the circumstances, we did pretty well,” the commander said. “The message we tried to get out was: If you don’t need to go anywhere, stay indoors. We tried to encourage people to stay off the roads.”
He said residents were warned in advance of the pending storm. All local school districts were closed, as of Tuesday night. Couch also stated that their agency takes a pro-active stance in storm events like this and attempts to warn folks in advance.
The sheriff commander did cite extremely bad areas north of Divide and between Divide and Woodland Park. According to Couch, the local emergency crews had to deal with a lot of stranded vehicles, but did not have any significant crashes. However, county authorities did encounter a really hazardous situation at the intersection of Teller County Roads 5 and 51, in which more than 10 cars were stranded.
The sheriff’s office did assist a family who encountered difficulties traveling between Colorado Springs and Cripple Creek, and put them up temporarily at the Divide Fire Station. The vicious storm also caused Highway 67 to close for part of the day on Wednesday and it shut down all of the county offices.
According to Mark Campbell, the city administrator of Cripple Creek, the gambling town was pretty much shut down on Wednesday, with only a few casinos open for business. He cited a big problem with employees not being able to get to the area. Cripple Creek city hall was shut down on Wednesday and was not reopened until Thursday around 11 a.m. The area received between a foot and two feet of snow, according to various reports. “We are recovering well,” said Campbell, on late Thursday afternoon.
Campbell said they didn’t have any major accidents, but officials spent much time helping motorists stuck on Hwy. 67 and on local roads. There were no major incidents with power outages in Cripple Creek, but that wasn’t the case in Victor, which struggled with the high winds
One key lesson from the storm, according to Campbell, is that the city needs to address their workforce housing shortages. One of the main reasons the casinos had to shut down was because employees, the far majority of whom don’t live in Cripple Creek, couldn’t get there to work, according to sources. Many say the region was lucky this storm happened in the middle of the week.
As far as Woodland Park goes, television news crews described the city as basically a ghost town on Wednesday, with virtually no businesses open, other than key convenience outlets. The area got hit with between a foot and two feet of snow, depending on the section of town. Winds ravaged at more than 50 miles per hour and created major problems, but there were fewer power outages compared to other areas.
Green Mountain Falls and the lower Ute Pass area dealt with huge winds and snow drifts. Wednesday was a complete white-out in the GMF and lower Pass area. Many local driveways and small roads were completely inaccessible because of the drifts.
It wasn’t really until Friday that parts of the region started to return to normal.