The Grand Valley felt the icy clutches of Father Winter in early January in the unusual form of freezing rain.
Uncommon for this area, the Grand Valley ice storm brought the Monday January 9 morning commute to a standstill with grounded flights and plenty of car accidents on I-70, stranding some motorists for hours. The icy conditions also prompted school and business delays and closures. With more precipitation forecasted for the next few days, conditions were not expected to improve any time soon.
Conditions for the rare Grand Junction ice event were set when rain fell where warmer temperatures kept it from turning to snow, but ground temperatures caused the freezing of the precipitation into a coating of ice. Typically, the cold air that gets trapped in the Grand Valley would be moved out by any storm that brings moisture. When that didn’t happen with this storm, the cold air further facilitated the formation of ice. The conditions were perpetuated by the fact that the freezing rain continually washed away the granular salt being used to melt the ice.
When more than a quarter of an inch of ice accumulated across the valley, the National Weather Service issued an ice storm warning- the first one for the area in three years. The warning was extended through Monday afternoon, prompting law enforcement, emergency managers, and transportation officials to be on high alert.
Nearly 1,000 calls were fielded by emergency dispatchers between 5 a.m. and 4 p.m. on Monday. Seventy-four wrecks were reported during the same time, not including any reported to Colorado State Patrol. This number also doesn’t include the non-injury crashes officers asked motorists to report online or within the next 48 hours to avoid overloading emergency dispatchers.
Many ice-related injuries were also reported. Within just a few hours of the storm, dispatchers had received 22 calls for assistance.
Teri Cavanagh, a spokeswoman for St. Mary’s Hospital reported a noticeable increase in admissions to the emergency department, most of which, she noted were the result of slips, trips, and falls.
The number of patients in the emergency department of Community Hospital was almost twice as many as usual by 1:30 p.m., as well. Community Hospital spokeswoman, Karen Martsolf, says the emergency room there usually treats an average of 42 patients in any 24-hour period. On Monday, however, 37 patients had been seen by 1:30- 19 of those had ice-related injuries.
Several parts of I-70 were closed due to accidents, including an 11-mile stretch from Clifton to Grand Junction, which did not open until 2 p.m., stranding many drivers. Towing companies worked diligently to negotiate the extra calls, while transportation officials worked to prevent accidents. Restrictions were placed on some commercial vehicles due to avalanche conditions and gusting winds that could topple semi-trucks.
Law enforcement, transportation officials, and motorists alike, say they’ve never seen anything quite like these conditions before.
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