Colorado has seen some very hairy snow conditions both on the highways and in the mountains this March. More than 100 inches of snowfall in the first two weeks of the month, triggered a volume of avalanches that many experts are saying has never been seen before. An avalanche in the Peru Creek area (east of Keystone) took out conifers that were more than 350 years old, and a more recent avalanche in Aspen – over a mile wide – knocked down thousands of old-growth trees.
There have been over 600 avalanches this March – a figure that has far exceeded predictions. While the month is not yet over, these onslaughts of snowslides have caused major closures and buried state and federal highways (including I-70, CO-91, US-40, and US-550) in snow depths between two, and up to fifteen feet in certain spots. In addition, an avalanche earlier this month ruptured a gas pipeline near Copper Mountain, causing a large natural gas leak. During incidents, many resorts were forced to restrict their hours and close in-bounds terrain. Heavy and loose snow in the backcountry have killed eight skiers this season, making this the most dangerous avalanche season since 2013/14.
This month we have witnessed the enormity of Mother Nature’s power in ways that Colorado rarely sees. The large and unexpected degree of impacts is leaving many wondering what happened. Ethan Greene, the director of the Colorado Avalanche Information Center (CAIC) told the Coloradoan that there are a couple of factors that contributed to the “perfect storm,” which set off this intense cycle of avalanches. Early season snowfall, followed by dry weather created a fragile base layer of snow. From then, consistent snowfall during January and February built a deep mid-layer (on top of the fragile base). Through this period, snowpack remained stable enough. The first two weeks of March saw major storms that dumped nearly 100 inches of snow on the mountains. The addition of this new, heavy snow, triggered the release of the fragile base layer, causing massive avalanches. CAIC’s Spencer Logan, told 5280, that wind may also have been a contributing factor that caused the snowpack to change rapidly, making conditions more unstable.
March is Colorado’s snowiest month and it is slated to wrap up smoother than it began, however it is important to note that avalanches are most common during the spring, and all outdoor enthusiasts should be cautious and aware before heading out. Please keep up-to-date with the CAIC Avalanche Forecast!
On a somber note, CDOT worker and Gypsum firefighter, Eric Hill was killed Saturday evening in Eagle County. He was working on North Frontage Road near Dotsero when he was struck by a heavy vehicle. The I-70 Coalition sends our thoughts and prayers to all those who lost their lives recently both working on and policing Colorado’s roads, and recreating in Colorado’s backcountry. If you wish to help support Eric’s family, his gofundme is linked here.
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