Mother Nature throws spring curveball at Crested Butte streets

Back on track…but prepping for the next big one

By Mark Reaman

If timing is everything, it certainly came into play last weekend. The start of a major weekend snowstorm early Friday morning along with spring temperatures wreaked havoc on Crested Butte streets. Slushy and icy streets Friday, Saturday and Sunday resulted in scores of stuck vehicles and narrow roads. Town-plowing crews extracted up to 50 stuck cars as a result of the weekend snowfall, and 28 others were towed from being parked on the wrong side of the street. That is the maximum number of tows the town can do during any given period of time.

Crested Butte public works director Shea Earley reported that crews were hampered by the timing of the storm that began Friday about 5 a.m. “It seems that the issues experienced in town over the Friday-Saturday timeframe were a culmination of variables,” he explained. “The early morning start of the storm was a factor. Because parking regulations preclude us from being able to perform a full daytime plow, all the snow built up on the roads and created a soft pack. I think we measured about 15 inches of new snow by the time the snow removal crew got in on the Friday night/Saturday morning shift. This, coupled with the fact that we had daytime highs in the 40s, resulted in the deterioration of the roads. Navigation of the streets was definitely challenging at certain points in time and crews were not only busy trying to clear streets of snow but helping people get unstuck.”

Earley said where possible, town crews were moving slush from the roads the entire weekend. He said as of Monday, it appeared significant positive progress had been made. 

“At this point, our operations are focusing on removing snow from temporary snow storage lots in town that are full from this last storm. We are prepping for the next pending storm that is expected later this week,” Earley said. “At the same time, we will continue to remove the slush from roads as our warm daytime temperatures are predicted to continue into the work week. All that being said, the town will be operating with both daytime and nighttime snow removal crews for the foreseeable future.”

The snow in the temporary storage lots is being transported to the town gravel pit. That area is already at about 90-95% capacity according to Earley. He said that means snow removal operations will start moving into the wetlands to the east of the gravel pit on Town Ranch.

As to the town’s effort to remove the snowpack from the streets, Earley said that is in the works. “Snowpack on roads typically gets addressed in spring once we have caught up with the winter accumulations and the widening of roads,” Earley said. “This year we are still getting snow accumulations and our roads are continuing to narrow while, at the same time, we are seeing warm spring conditions. As indicated in our operational summary, we are attempting to address all three of these issues through multiple snow removal crews.”

Unfortunately, like almost every business or government in the county, the town public works department is also dealing with staffing issues that add to the stress. “We currently have four out of six street positions filled,” noted Earley. “This requires us to lean on the other divisions of public works to fill gaps in staffing during nighttime operations. Also, when we have both daytime and nighttime crews going at the same time, it requires us to staff the daytime crew with the same auxiliary personnel from other public works divisions. This starts to put more and more pressure on the day-to-day public works operations outside of snow removal.”

The current weather forecast, by the way, is calling for more major snow to fall next week with high temperatures reaching near or above the freezing mark. The great 2023 winter adventure continues!

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