Major snowstorm heading to the Rockies this weekend

  (Photo: Colorado Department of Transportation)
(Photo: Colorado Department of Transportation)

A snowstorm that has already caused numerous drivers to spin out of control or crash across the Rockies will make travel worse through much of the weekend. The Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) and witnesses on the roads have reported many accidents today (Friday, March 1), including one on I-70 in Colorado (video below), between the Eisenhower Tunnel and the city of Georgetown. Other areas of western Colorado are also going to get hammered, making trouble for truckers who won’t be able to avoid the region.

Weekend Storm

Ripples in the upper atmospheric flow, along with moisture off the Pacific Ocean, will produce periods of heavy snow and high winds across western Colorado. The National Weather Service (NWS) has posted Winter Storm Warnings for these areas, in effect from now through Sunday morning. A “Winter Storm Warning” means significant amounts of snow, sleet and/or ice will make travel very hazardous or impossible.

The mountains of Summit County, the Mosquito Range and the Indian Peaks – to the west and northwest of Denver – stand to get the most snow. Accumulations of 15 to 30 inches have been forecast, with three to four feet possible in the northern peaks. This will greatly impact the following areas – Breckenridge, Cameron Pass, Gore Pass, Rabbit Ears Pass, Rocky Mountain National Park and the Eisenhower Tunnel on I-70.

Weekend totals of 12 to 24 inches will be common in the following areas – Gore and Elk Mountains, Elkhead and Park Mountains (including Columbine and Trappers Lake), eastern Sawatch Mountains above 11,000 feet, as well as the Snowy and Sierra Madre Ranges. Pockets of three-foot accumulations are possible, with six to 18 inches in popular tourist destinations like Aspen, Telluride and Vail.

This storm will be another in a series of storms that has dumped plenty of snow across the region this winter. Megan Stackhouse, a meteorologist with the NWS office in Grand Junction, Colorado, told FreightWaves that western Colorado is more than 100 percent above normal snowpack for this time of the year (114 percent statewide). Some parts of the state, according to NWS records, were only at 50 to 60 percent of normal at this time last year. The turnaround is due, in part, to two big storms last month, the second of which produced more than five feet of snow in the Columbus Basin in the southwestern San Juan Mountains. But last season was a relative bust.

“Last winter there was a large ridge of high pressure over the Rockies which blocked a lot of snowstorms from hitting us,” Stackhouse recalled. “Most of the big storms stayed to our north.”

Snow levels will drop from 7,500 feet and above tonight and Saturday, down to 5,000 feet Saturday night and Sunday. This weekend storm will also bury parts of eastern Utah and southeastern Wyoming, affecting travel on I-70 and I-80. Not only will this weekend storm be a big snow maker, but winds gusts could reach 40 to 50 mph. Carriers should try to send their drivers around the storm, preferably to the south. Snow and wind, along with bitterly cold temperatures, are forecast to hit the High Plains to the north.

 SONAR road conditions at 4:00 a.m. EST on Sunday, March 3, 2019.
SONAR road conditions at 4:00 a.m. EST on Sunday, March 3, 2019.

Other Significant Weekend Weather

From Saturday evening through Sunday, major snow and freezing rain could make portions of the I-70 corridor extremely icy from St. Louis, Missouri to Dodge City, Kansas. This a nearly 600-mile stretch and should be avoided, if possible.

Beginning tonight, heavy snow will return to the Sierra Nevada Range in eastern California. However, this storm will be tame compared to most others this winter. Look for totals of 18 to 24 inches over most mountain passes near the Nevada state line.

Heavy snow and high winds will also spread across much of Montana, with bitterly cold wind chills in the 30s and 40s below zero. Temperatures will likely stay below zero day and night all weekend. Drivers – remember to use enough winter additive in you diesel to prevent fuel gelling, and keep your trucks running as much as possible.

Another round of snow, sleet and freezing rain/drizzle will hit tonight through Saturday from the Mason-Dixon line up the I-95 corridor. Winter Weather Advisories have been issued for portions of the Northeast. Right now, Boston is the only major metropolitan area that is in an Advisory, but this could change. Look for updates on this interactive map.

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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.