CLEAR CREEK COUNTY, Colo. (CBS4) – The last nine days in Colorado has forced seasoned avalanche forecasters out of retirement to help manage the historic slides happening throughout the high country.
Sunday, Colorado Department of Transportation crews tossed 40-pound bombs from helicopters which triggered slides along the Interstate 70 mountain corridor.
Areas included Vail Pass, Tenmile Canyon and Silver Plume. The goal was to help lessen the danger for drivers below.
This comes after more than a week of hundreds of natural and controlled slides that have blocked roads, buried cars and took out infrastructure, and it’s not over.
Ray Mumford retired from the Colorado Avalanche Information Center in 2007. He was out Sunday to observe and offer his experience to crews blasting for danger near Silver Plume.
“When it all started I didn’t didn’t think it was going to be this bad. I thought it was going to be another storm cycle, it would be significant, but nothing like this,” Mumford told CBS4.
He watched snow come down off a high cliff above a chute which they typically don’t need to mitigate, but this isn’t a typical season.
“We are already well over the 2,500 avalanches we typically document in a year,” CAIC Director Ethan Greene said Sunday.
Another major storm will hit Colorado this week, beginning in the southwest corner of the state where crews still have not been able to remove the slides that hit mountain passes from the last wave. Red Mountain Pass for example remains closed and will be for several more days after tons of snow and trees buried the highway in at least 30 feet of snow.
Special equipment has been called in to help.
“We are dealing with an unprecedented set of events,” Greene added.
The historic avalanche cycle over the last nine days has hit a wide path through the high country, all at once. Slides in places that have never hit highways like Highway 91 near Copper Mountain are destroying thousands of adult trees, creating new chutes and taking out utilities in their path.
“We estimate it (the slide) had to travel through 1,000 feet of mature timber to reach the roads. The avalanche that hit Highway 82 the night before last contained trees in them that we’ll have to go back and date, but they are several hundred years old. They are larger than the trees that we’ve documented before in avalanches that were 350 years old,” Greene said.
The CAIC continues to warn backcountry users that this danger is not something to take lightly. The watches and warnings for several different areas remain. The next wave of snow will only add to the unstable conditions.
“We are still very much in the middle of it, me personally I am so terribly sleep deprived. Our staff has been stretched to its limit during this cycle what we’re really focusing on how do we maintain public safety over the next days and weeks,” Greene said.
In Colorado, the battle with Mother Nature is causing major traffic delays and impacting thousands of people in mountain towns.
CDOT’s Excutive Director says they are still adding up the total cost of the mitigation missions and overtime associated with this event, but promises they will find the funds in order to keep travelers safe in the high country.