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Arctic blast, snow overwhelm efforts to keep region’s roads clear

By: Chhun Sun
December 17, 2016 Updated: December 17, 2016 at 8:30 pm
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Vehicles battle the snow and fridged temperatures as they drive along North Nevada in Colorado Springs Saturday, Dec. 17, 2016, in a winter storm. Temperatures were in the 60s less than 24 hours before in the Colorado Springs area. (The Gazette, Christian Murdock)

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Colorado Springs wasn’t quite brought to a standstill by the first Arctic blast of the season, but anyone who didn’t need to go anywhere Saturday had to be grateful they could stay inside.

At least 4 inches of snow fell overnight before tapering off just after noon and the temperature dipped below zero and never rose above the single digits. The 69-degree drop from Friday’s high of 65 degrees set a record for the city. It dropped to a low of minus-4 degrees at 4 p.m. Saturday, making it the largest difference between two consecutive days since Nov. 10-11, 2014, when the difference was 54 degrees, according to the National Weather Service in Pueblo.

The low Saturday came close to the day’s record low of minus-7 degrees set in 1932, the weather service reported.

Gazette news partner KKTV reported snow totals around Colorado Springs ranged from 3 to 6 inches. More than 7 inches fell in Fountain, 4 inches in Canon City, 3.5 inches in Pueblo, 3 inches in Woodland Park and 2.5 inches in Black Forest.

A mix of snow falling on warm pavement followed by bone-chilling cold made driving treacherous. The initial snowfall melted then turned to ice covered by a few inches of powder or packed snow that hid the danger.

Several flights were canceled at the Colorado Springs Airport, but official numbers were not available. Meanwhile, nearly 300 flights were scratched at Denver International Airport before normal traffic resumed early Saturday afternoon, airport officials said.

If there was a saving grace, it was that the storm struck after rush hour on Friday and into the weekend, when fewer people needed to get to work, school or be on the roads. Nevertheless, the swirling snow and polar air overwhelmed efforts by city snowplows to keep roads clear.

In a Facebook post Saturday, The Gazette asked readers what their roads looked like across Colorado Springs. Many said residential areas had not been plowed.

Carl Hansen, who lives in the Skyway area in southwest Colorado Springs, said he didn’t see any snowplows as late as Saturday afternoon. “But saw a city pickup with a sand spreader that was probably working intersections at the bottom of hills,” he wrote in a Facebook post.

Dave Eick, another Skyway resident, said in a Facebook post that he didn’t see a snowplow come through the area. He added, “Hopefully they get the intersections and major streets all clean so we can get to church for Christmas programs” on Sunday morning.

A full team of 40 snow plows was out on Colorado Springs’ major streets since early Saturday, said Terry Huggins, a city operations program supervisors. He said that those streets have been plowed at least once. Many secondary roads — which are near the major streets — aren’t likely to be tackled until after Sunday afternoon when temperatures are forecast to rise into the mid-20s.

“I don’t see real improvements until probably Sunday with the main and secondaries,” Huggins said. “It’ll be a couple days before we get cleaned up and it’ll be after that until we moved into residential (areas).”
The city has 5,688 lane miles of roadway.

According to county spokeswoman Kristina Iodice, 22 snow plows will work through Sunday morning to clear county roads. “Given the freezing temperatures and snow, it’s winter driving conditions,” she said, reminding drivers to take it slow on the roads.

Many streets and highways will likely remain hazardous Sunday morning because overnight temperatures are forecast to be below freezing, said Klint Skelly, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Pueblo. He added that snow could start melting Sunday, when the sun creeps through in the afternoon, but he doesn’t expect a change until the day after.

“We’re expecting clear skies, so that’s going to help out a little,” Kelly said, referring to Sunday’s forecast across the Pikes Peak region. “But Monday is probably when we start seeing a little relief.”

KKTV’s forcast was for a quick rebound, with highs in the 30s and 40s in the Pikes Peak region on Monday before climbing back into the 50s on Tuesday with dry conditions and sunny skies.

“The rest of the work week will stay mild and dry,” KKTV reports.

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