June 15, 2007

Winter of '06-'07 second snowiest in Bailey in 68 years
Other areas of the county beat average snowfall

By Wendy Philip - Intern

What a winter it has been for Park County. It was one that brought near-record-breaking snowfall, high winds, the worst power-outage situation in 40 years, snow on the ground for long periods, and a grudging exit, with May snowfall in Lake George that was 10 times the average for that month.

Seven major snowstorms battered Park County from late October through May.

The winter of 2006/2007 was the second snowiest on record in Bailey, in the northeastern part of Park County, using National Weather Service data extending back to 1938-1939 for July 1 through June 30. This past winter, Bailey was hit with 134.7 inches of snow, second only to the 184.1 inches in the winter of 1969-1970.

That 134.7 inches was 70 percent higher than the 68-year average of 79.1 inches.

The winter was particularly unusual in the early months.

The Oct. 26 storm started the winter off with a bang, covering a vehicle and building materials at Moore Lumber & Hardware in Bailey. (Flume file photo)

Bailey has received an average of 28 inches of snow between October and December since 1986. This winter, 74.8 inches, or 2.7 times the average, fell during that time period.

Jan Schafer, who lives in the Harris Park area of Bailey, said there were Harris Park residents who said the past winter was the worst they'd seen in the past 35 to 50 years.

"We never had snow and cold and wind and repeated storms like that," said Schafer, who has lived in Harris Park since 1989.

The winter was also tough on the business run by her and her husband, Cal, because big rigs carrying items such as beer and soda pop were unwilling to deliver to her store in Harris Park because of fear of the driving conditions. Park County did a very good job of maintaining the roads, she said, but the truck drivers "probably didn't realize the roads were as good as they were."

She drove down to U.S. 285 and even down to Tiny Town to meet delivery trucks while volunteers sometimes minded the store. Even so, the harsh winter, coupled with other problems such as vehicle breakdowns, finally caused The Little Store to close in late March.

"It was the straw that broke the camel's back," she said.

Grant, also in the northeastern part of the county, received 131.3 inches, just 3.4 inches less than Bailey. But Grant has typically received more snow then Bailey, so this past winter was only the sixth-snowiest on record, using National Weather Service data extending back to 1963-1964.

The average winter snowfall in Grant during that period was 96 inches, so last winter's 131.3 inches was 37 percent higher than that average.

"We had a few good doozies, didn't we," said Darlene Hartford, a resident since 1971 of Shawnee, which is between Bailey and Grant.

The tough winter made it tough for her to get to bowling league games and run errands such as grocery shopping, or getting to the cleaners, drug store or doctors appointments.

"There are hardships, more so for senior citizens," said Hartford, who is 72.

Has she heard of anyone moving because of the tough winter of 2006-2007?

"I wish I was," she said. "It's getting too hard up here."

Fairplay gets less snow

Marie Chisholm, who has lived in Fairplay since 1944, has a different perspective, but part of that is because Fairplay, northwest of the center of the county, didn't get as much snow as Bailey and Grant.

The National Weather Service pegged the Fairplay snowfall at 89.5 inches for this past winter, while the U.S. Forest Service pegged it at 107.4 inches. Different locations for measurement can cause differences in amounts measured.

Even using the higher number, the 107 inches ranks only fifth among the winters recorded since 1986-1987 in Fairplay.

The snowiest winter since 1986 was in 1994/95, when the town received 154 inches of snow, or 43 percent higher than this past winter's 107 inches.

Still, Fairplay's snowfall in 2006-2007 exceeded the monthly averages in all months except November, February and April.

Looking back on her Fairplay experience that extends more than six decades, Chisholm thinks this past winter wasn't such a bad one.

"This winter has been very mild," she said. But relative newcomers compare it to the preceding few winters, which have been very dry, and are overwhelmed by it, she said.

"But it's not anything unusual. We're kind of getting back to what we used to have," Chisholm said.

"Back in the '40s we had a lot more moisture than we have been receiving in the last seven to 10 years."

She recalls the winter of 1969-1970 as being particularly bad. By April, five feet of snow covered all of South Park, and when 60-degree weather hit in April, the entire South Park area was turned into "an absolute lake," with roads and bridges washed out and Hartsel turned into an isolated town with no way in or out.

"Some people think it's been bad," she said of the past winter. "It's not been that bad. We haven't had that much snow as far as I'm concerned."

Lake George

But, of course, everything's relative.

Down in the southeastern part of the county, Lake George experienced the second highest snowfall of any winter since 1960-1961, when National Weather Service data starts.

Lake George posted 96.3 inches of snowfall this past winter, second only to the 100.7 inches posted in 1972-1973. The 96.3 inches was 63 percent higher than the average snowfall of 59.0, based on data since 1960-1961.

At Antero Reservoir, which is southwest of the center of the county, snowfall totaled 72.5 inches this past winter, which was the fifth highest on record since 1961-1962, when National Weather Service data starts.

The 72.5 inches was 54 percent higher than the 47-inch average dating back to 1961-1962.

Winter timeline starts off with snowy October

Oct. 26 brought the first big snowstorm of the season. The snowiest October on record for Bailey and Lake George, and the fourth-snowiest on record for Fairplay, laid down 21.5 inches of snow in Bailey, 16 inches in Lake George but only blanketed Fairplay with 4 inches. Highways were closed, and for the first time in five years schools were closed in the Fairplay-based Re-2 school district.

December brought two major blizzards: one on Dec. 20-21 and one on Dec. 28-29. The combined storms dropped close to 33.4 inches on Bailey, more snow than it's received on average between October and December since 1986.

During those storms, Fairplay received 17.9 inches and Lake George got 25.1 inches. Fairplay doubled its average snow amount for December. In Lake George, the 44 inches received in December 2006 alone was about equal in snowfall to the previous five Decembers combined.

The two major December storms shut down Interstate 25 and Interstate 70 in parts of the state and caused numerous traffic accidents. Denver International Airport shut down during the first storm, and many government offices were shut down.

The next storm hit a week later on Jan. 4-5. It brought an extra 9.1 inches to Bailey, 8 inches to Fairplay and 12 inches to Lake George.

The snow was accompanied by a windstorm that blasted through the area. The wind caused power outages to about 6,000 homes and caused schools to close throughout Park County. It also caused road closures of U.S. 285 and Colorado Highway 9.

May surprises

Much of the rest of the winter stayed close to monthly averages until May brought some snowy surprises. According to the U.S. Forest Service, last month Bailey received 18.8 inches, Fairplay received 12.5 inches and Lake George was dumped on with a whopping 21 inches. For Fairplay it was the third most snowfall for May since 1986. In Bailey, May's total was four times higher than the May average of 4.7 inches during the previous six years. Lake George's 21 inches was 10 times higher than the 16-year average of two inches for May, according to U.S. Forest Service numbers.

Gerry Chetelat, who's lived at KZ Ranch in Bailey for nine years and was raised in Colorado, said if he'd known there was going to be so much snow this winter he would have talked to his landlord about putting a wood stove in.

"Part of the reason I moved up here was because of the snow, but at some point it needs to end," Chetelat said.

Got electricity?

Power outages also socked Park County this past winter, particularly during the storm of April 24-27. Power outages were running typical for the Intermountain Rural Electric Association in Park County up until that storm, which was the worst ever for some IREA employees, according to Bill Schroder, manager of public affairs for IREA.

"Some of the guys working here have been here for 40 years and have never seen anything this bad," Schroder said.

IREA experienced $750,000 to $1 million in damages from the power outage that ran across five counties. Most damages were due to trees blowing over in high winds or wet snow causing power lines to sag. A number of poles snapped as trees hit them, and a few isolated homes went without power for almost five days.

The problem was exacerbated by the fact that lines that run up through Conifer are main circuit lines. That means that when those lines go down, the surrounding areas also lose power. To address that issue, IREA is setting up a substation in Hartsel where it will be able to re-route power in a case like that of the storm of April 24-27. The project is scheduled for spring 2008 and should be completed by the end of 2008.

"We had some of the lowest outage rates in the nation. It'll take some time, after that April storm, until we're back at that spot," Schroder said.

Pluses for the summer?

On the plus side, the snowy winter has reduced the risk of fire this summer. Rocky Mountain Predictive Services released its 2007 Rocky Mountain Association Fire Season Outlook with a prediction that most of Colorado (Park County included) will only have an average fire season. An average season is defined as a season with both short-lived active and inactive fire periods.

Currently there is low to moderate chance of fire throughout central and eastern Colorado. The level will rise to mostly moderate between July and September, with some areas, mostly west of Park County, receiving a high chance of fire.

Last month Mike Hessler, fire management officer with the South Park Ranger District, said the heavy snow pack and wet conditions over much of the Front Range are keeping the fire danger low in Park County.

"These are the wettest conditions we've had since 1999," Hessler said.

- Tom Locke
contributed to this article

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