Red Mountain Pass remains closed indefinitely Monday after weekend attempts of avalanche mitigation brought down more snow than was anticipated, Colorado Department of Transportation announced Sunday, and crews are looking at hundreds of man hours to clear the highway.
Saturday’s avalanche mitigation was described as daunting by CDOT crews as the amount of snow on the pass rose to an estimated 60 feet over a 300-foot stretch of U.S. 550.
“You could walk through the shed and touch the lights on the ceiling,” CDOT spokeswoman, Lisa Schwantes, said.
Avalanche control crews performed helicopter operations Saturday morning to address more than 20 avalanche paths on Lizard Head, Red Mountain and Molas passes.
Schwantes said crews were able to open Lizard Head and Molas passes by mid-morning on Saturday.
“But Red Mountain Pass will remain closed indefinitely. We are unable to put a timeline on when the pass will reopen given the dynamic nature of what is happening this avalanche season,” Schwantes said.
Nine of 13 slide paths saw significant amounts of snow hit the highway Saturday.
On Sunday morning, the Riverside snow shed on the north end of Red Mountain Pass was filled with 20 feet of snow, Schwantes said.
Another storm has moved in as of early Monday, bringing snow to the high country and rain to Southwest Colorado’s river valleys, according to the National Weather Service in Grand Junction.
The weather service issued a winter storm warning Monday, effective until 6 p.m. Tuesday, that corresponds with a high threat for avalanche activity.
The area of the southwest San Juan Mountains, near Silverton, is expected to get 8 to 16 inches of snow during the warning period.
A winter storm watch means a potential threat exists for significant snow, sleet and ice accumulations that could impact travel.
National Weather Service meteorologist Megan Stackhouse said the recent unsettled weather pattern over Southwest Colorado is not unusual for an El Niño year. El Niño conditions, which favor above-average snowfall for Southwest Colorado, are expected to extend through at least early spring, she said.
As of March 8, the Colorado SNOTEL Snow Water Equivalent Update Map reported the Animas, Dolores, San Juan and San Miguel river basins were at 138 percent of the 30-year average snowpack.
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