Colorado’s chain law in full effect: more snow in the Rockies this weekend

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It’s still autumn, but Mother nature doesn’t always pay attention to the calendar when we’re talking about weather. After several rounds of snowfall so far this season in the Rockies, another one is coming this weekend. Truckers will have to carry chains. If they don’t, it could cost them.

A law requiring commercial vehicle drivers to carry chains when moving through Colorado was first passed in the mid-1990s. Greg Fulton, president of the Colorado Motor Carriers Association (CMCA), tells FreightWaves that the law was updated in the early 2000s to require more than just carrying chains. Now, drivers who cause accidents or lane closures because they don’t use their chains face heftier fines. This newer version of the law also specified a time frame during which drivers have to carry chains – September 1 until May 1.

Since weather can change quickly in Colorado, safety and reducing accidents were the motivations behind the law. Fulton says according to statistics, and despite criticism from plenty of truckers, the law has been working. Also, if truckers are able to avoid causing incidents which stop them for long periods of time, their hours of service and pay won’t be interrupted. After all, time is money.

Understanding that chaining up or down is time consuming and sometimes dangerous, especially in the often harsh weather of Colorado’s mountains, the CMCA has been involved in outreach, training, and education to help drivers. Also, the state has set up dozens of stations along Interstate 70 so drivers have safe places to chain up or down.

Most of tonight’s snow will start after 6 p.m. Mountain time. The National Weather Service has issued a Winter Weather Advisory for portions of northwestern and north central Colorado for tonight and Saturday. Here’s the breakdown:

Cities of Columbine, Hahns Peak, Toponas, Aspen, Vail, Snowmass, Buford, and Trappers Lake:

  • Total snow accumulations of 6 to 10 inches are in the forecast, with as much as 12 inches in the Park Range above 9,500 feet.

  • Main areas of concern are the Elkhead and Park Mountains, Gore and Elk Mountains/Central Mountain Valleys, Flat Tops, and northern Sawatch Ranges.

Western Mosquito Range and East Lake County above 11,000 feet, as well as Eastern Sawatch Mountains above 11,000 feet:

  • Total snow accumulations of 4 to 8 inches are expected, mainly north of Cottonwood Pass, with winds gusting as high as 50 mph. Be extra careful if you have to deadhead or haul light loads.

  • Plan on slippery and snow packed road conditions. Blowing snow could significantly reduce visibility at times, particularly across the exposed higher terrain and passes.

Rabbit Ears Pass, Rocky Mountain National Park, the Medicine Bow Range, the Mountains of Summit County, the Mosquito Range, and the Indian Peaks:

  • Total snow accumulations of 6 to 12 inches are expected. Winds could gust up to 60 mph over the higher passes. Be extra careful if you have to deadhead or haul light loads.

  • Travel could be very difficult, and areas of blowing snow could significantly reduce visibility.

Fulton says the Colorado State Patrol (CSP) does random vehicle inspections in the early part of the season to make sure drivers are carrying chains. Last month was very successful with a 97 percent compliance rate. CSP might also pull you over for not being chained up when it’s snowing. According to the American Trucking Associations (ATA), 44 other states have chain laws.

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Nick Austin, Director of Weather Analytics and Senior Meteorologist

In his 17 years of weather forecasting experience, Nick worked on air at WBBJ-TV and WRCB-TV, including time spent doing weather analysis and field reporting. He received his Bachelor of Science in Meteorology from Florida State University as well as a Bachelor of Science in Management from Georgia Institute of Technology. Nick is also a member of the American Meteorological Society and National Weather Association. As a member of the weather team at WBBJ-TV in Jackson, Tennessee, Nick was nominated for a Mid-South Emmy for live coverage of a major tornado outbreak in 2008. As part of the weather team at WRCB-TV in Chattanooga, Tennessee, Nick shared the Chattanooga Times-Free Press Best of the Best award for “Best Weather Team” for eight consecutive years. Nick earned his National Weather Association Broadcasting Seal in 2005.