A blast of winter weather is heading toward Colorado, and forecasters are gaining confidence that the storm will dump a significant amount of snow.
Here are five things you should know about the storm:
1. No solid predictions of snow totals yet
Despite some very early models showing anticipated snowfall in feet not inches, the National Weather Service in Boulder is not yet predicting snow totals for the approaching storm.
But forecasters are confident that it likely will start snowing overnight Thursday and then “snow is likely” for the metro area through Sunday.
“The pattern is pretty favorable, the potential is there for significant snowfall totals,” said Zach Hiris, a meteorologist with the NWS Boulder. “It’s going to be quite a big storm.”
2. First, there’s a preview — then the big event
Don’t be fooled by a rain and snow mix that is due to arrive in Denver on Wednesday night; the prolonged real deal kicks in overnight Thursday into Friday. Denver’s NWS forecast calls for “snow likely” on Friday morning, and it remains “snow likely” through Sunday.
The approaching storm system is tracking out of the northwest. It could dump snow from the Four Corners area up north into Wyoming. With upslope conditions in the forecast, the Front Range foothills and mountains east of the Continental Divide could be hard hit.
3. Snowplows are ready in Denver
Anticipating as much as two feet of snow in the coming days, Denver crews are preparing for a worst-case scenario and getting the city’s fleet of snowplows ready, Department of Transportation and Infrastructure officials said.
But the city didn’t make clear what the magic number, snow-wise, is when it comes to getting around to plowing its 1,260 miles of residential streets. Worst case, department spokeswoman Nancy Kuhn said, looks like a full deployment of “large plows to the main streets and residential plows to the side streets and heavy equipment, if needed, to lift/move any heavier accumulation of snow caused by drifting.”
The decision whether to deploy residential plows is made on a “storm-by-storm” basis, Kuhn said, “when we feel they can be helpful in clearing a path to the main streets and preventing deep ice rutting.”
4. The November 2019 storm is still on people’s minds
Denver has already seen close to a foot of snow in one storm this year, though it melted quickly.
But some residents are still smarting over the November 2019 storm, after which residential streets were left unplowed for days. At least one City Council member has complained that the city’s strategy for larger bouts of snowfall is to let the sun melt it away, which takes a long time and keeps people from being able to move around town.
During that 2019 storm, however, Kuhn said the residential plows “did what they were designed to do,” which is to remove the top few inches of snow and clear paths to main streets. Residential plows, which are specially outfitted pickup trucks, do not plow streets down to the pavement and do not carry deicing material, she added.
Denver has about 70 large plows for the city’s 2,050 or so lane-miles of main streets, and about 36 smaller plows for residential streets.
5. School officials are mindful of the forecast
Schools in the Denver area are also keeping close watch on the storm, though officials said it’s too soon to know if it will be severe enough to close buildings. And even if it is, whether or not that means classes are canceled varies by district.
As remote education became a pandemic necessity, so too did the ability for districts to pivot learning formats at a moment’s notice. That’s led some to leverage snow days to make up instructional time lost due to COVID-19 via virtual learning.
Students in Westminster Public Schools, for example, will be expected to sign into their classes remotely in the event conditions are too hazardous to open schools. Contrarily, Littleton Public Schools maintains its pre-pandemic snow day policy: When buildings close, classes are canceled even for those enrolled exclusively in virtual education.
Other districts, such as Denver Public Schools and Jeffco Public Schools, don’t have hard-and-fast policies, and make decisions based on the specific weather event. District leaders work closely with city officials and community members to gauge the severity of the storm and travel conditions before calling for a delayed start, snow day or remote learning day.
“Any sort of power issue would certainly be taken into consideration as one point of information,” Jeffco spokesperson Cameron Bell said, acknowledging that widespread power outages from a storm would make remote learning difficult.
Douglas County School District and Cherry Creek School District students will be off for spring break next week.
“The bottom line is for everyone to be prepared for the storm,” the National Weather Service’s Hiris said. “Continue to pay attention to official sources to get the latest update information.”
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