A major cleanup lies ahead after wet, heavy snow piled up across the Pikes Peak region during a surprisingly strong late-May snowstorm, snarling roads, closing schools and downing trees.
In Colorado Springs, snowfall totals Tuesday ranged from 1 inch to 12.5 inches, says data from the National Weather Service in Pueblo. And far more snow fell in northern El Paso County, where depths of 15 to 20 inches were reported from Monument to Black Forest to Peyton.
The totals far exceeded meteorologists’ predictions.
“The storm came in further south than models suggested,” said Mark Wankowski, a weather service meteorologist. “With it coming south, it got a little colder and a few differences in degrees makes all the difference in forecasting.”
Three greenhouses at Britton Nursery, 7075 Wyoming Lane, collapsed under the weight of the heavy, wet, snow, said general manager Joey Clark. The facility’s central shade house, a wooden structure, and two hoop houses, steel-supported plastic greenhouses, were destroyed. Other greenhouses sustained minor damage.
“We’ll to wait for the snow to melt, and then to dismantle the structure that’s on top of the plants” to determine how many plants survived, Clark said.
“The upside is that the roof was covered in snow, so the plants are now covered in snow, which will insulate them from the cold temperatures tonight, so the majority of them will probably be OK. I think more are going to be OK than it looks like. They might require being cut back and then given a couple weeks to grow back up.”
By late Tuesday afternoon, the city’s Forestry Division had received more than 700 reports of damaged trees, said spokeswoman Vanessa Zink. The city’s Public Works, Operations and Maintenance Division had received 300 calls.
Many of the calls were about fallen limbs, not downed trees, Zink said. But the city estimated that cleanup could take weeks.
For information on how to report downed trees, go to coloradosprings.gov/downtree. If a fallen tree is touching a power line, officials said to stay away from it and report the damage to Colorado Springs Utilities at 448-4800.
Trees on private property, though, are the property owner’s responsibility. Zink recommended that homeowners take their woody debris to Rocky Top Resources, a wood recycling facility that accepts yard waste for free on Saturdays with donations to Care and Share.
But officials with the city’s Forestry Division warned residents not to take on the cleanup if they’re not qualified.
“Lots of homeowners here have chainsaws,” said City Forester Dennis Will.
“The problem is that the snow load created a very heavy tension wood and compression wood with trees that are under a load. So as soon as they cut that wood, that spring is released and can come back.”
At Colorado Springs Airport, where the city’s official measurements are recorded, 2.9 inches of snow fell Monday, breaking the day’s previous record of only a trace of snow set in 2001, the National Weather Service in Pueblo reported.
The 1.71 inches of rainfall measured at the airport also broke the day’s previous record of 1.53 inches set in 1900.
Another record was set Tuesday with 2 inches of snow at the airport, breaking the previous record of a trace set in 1951, the weather service reported. The rainfall total — 0.27 inches — fell below the day’s record of 0.99 inches set in 1985.
The high temperature in Colorado Springs climbed to 42 degrees Tuesday, and most roads were cleared by the evening commute. But the storm came in strong Monday night. Crews scrambled to clear roads, but “Mother Nature was just winning,” said Corey Farkas, the city’s streets manager.
By 7 p.m. Monday, “we had snow falling at a rate of 3 inches per hour in the northern regions of the city,” Farkas said.
“We cannot keep up on full call out. Just for perspective, if we have snow falling at 1 inch per hour, we can’t keep up with that. As soon as we plow a road, it will cover up immediately.”
The latest in the season that measurable snowfall has fallen at the Colorado Springs Airport — the city’s official measurement location — was on June 10, 1975, when 1.1 inches of snow was recorded, weather service data shows. The weather service considers a measurable snowfall to be at least 0.1 inches.
The month of May with the highest snowfall was in 1978, with a total of 19.4 inches, but on average May in Colorado Springs brings 2.03 inches of rain and 0.7 inches of snow, weather service data shows.
The University of Colorado at Colorado Springs was closed Tuesday, citing “continued inclement weather and travel conditions.” Several Colorado Springs and El Paso County school districts also shut down for the day or had delayed starts.
Many city properties, including Palmer Park, North Cheyenne Canon and Garden of the Gods were closed Tuesday, as was Gold Camp Road.
The Gazette’s Liz Henderson contributed to this report.