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Colorado blizzards: lessons learned

Colorado’s snow-covered mountains and great ski resorts are inviting to tourists and paradise to ski enthusiasts. However, to others winter in Colorado can be deadly.In her memoirs of Eastonville, Colo., Jean Evans reported an 1899 blizzard that killed a shepherd and 3,000 sheep on a ranch owned by Charles Hobbs.Recent winter storms have been far more deadly.”The infamous Christmas “Blizzard of 1982″ brought travel to a halt for 48 hours and killed five people,” according to an account by meteorologist Mike Nelson in the “Colorado Weather Book.” One month later, eight people died in a January blizzard.The deadliest storm to date in Colorado occurred in 1997 when nine people died – four of them were from El Paso County.According to the Pueblo National Weather Service, there were unseasonably warm temperatures in October 1997. When a winter storm warning was issued on Friday, Oct. 24, few residents or visitors took it seriously, which set the stage for tragedy.Light snow fell in the Springs as commuters headed home that evening. But north and east of the city the roads were covered with ice. Whiteout conditions existed east of Black Forest Road, and abandoned vehicles blocked Woodmen Road.Snow and high winds continued into the next day. Gov. Roy Romer declared a state of emergency, and the state patrol closed roads throughout the Front Range, including Meridian and Woodmen roads and Highway 24 and 94. By Saturday evening, 20 inches of snow had fallen at the Colorado Springs airport, and wind gusts had reached 53 mph. Hundreds of vehicles were stranded throughout the state along Interstate 25, but the Gazette reported the hardest hit areas were Black Forest and Falcon, where 30 inches of snow pushed by howling 60-mph-winds formed 15 foot drifts.Jeff Petersma, today a Falcon Fire Department deputy chief, recalled the severity of the storm. “The storm hit Falcon around 5 p.m., and our rescue crews were quickly at a standstill,” Petersma said. “The department had to call upon all its resources; the military police from Fort Carson brought out Humvees; and El Paso County Search and Rescue provided snowcats.” He said Falcon firefighters worked for three days rescuing residents using bulldozers, snowplows and snowmobiles donated by private citizens.”Humans, livestock, even herds of antelope died during the 1997 blizzard,” Petersma said. On Sunday afternoon, firefighters discovered John Krupofnistky dead in his truck near the intersection of Woodmen and Black Forest roads. According to an Oct. 29, 1997 Gazette article, the bodies of a young Widefield couple were found in their car at the intersection of Marksheffel Road and Fontaine Boulevard. All three died of carbon monoxide poisoning after snow clogged the tail pipe of their vehicles. A fourth person, Pvt. Corey Edwards, age 20, died from exposure while waiting out the storm in his car near Fort Carson’s Youth Service Center.”Monday evening I was still using a snowmobile to deliver medications and baby formula to homes in the Black Forest,” Petersma said. The Gazette reported sunny skies and warmer temperatures on Oct. 29, which helped the city return to normal, but only the main roads in El Paso County were open. Five days after the blizzard began, most side streets were not plowed, and many residents were still unable to leave their homes.Farther east, ranchers faced devastating losses. Cattle died early in the storm or after they had been trapped for days without food or water. Colorado Undersecretary of Agriculture Bob Mc Lavey said 15,000 cattle, worth $7.5 million, perished during the storm.”What Falcon experienced on Oct. 9 was nothing; it was a minor snowstorm,” Petersma said.However, he urges everyone to prepare their home and vehicles for major winter storms. In an April press release, Colorado Division of Emergency Management Director Tim Grier stressed, “Preparedness begins with the individual.” He recommended listening to the forecasts and storm warnings, and storing food, water, medications and essential items just in case Mother Nature decides to give everyone a dose of Colorado’s severe winter weather.Winter car kitKeep these items in your car:

  • Fully charged cell phone
  • Snow shovel
  • Jumper cables
  • Sand or a bag of kitty litter for traction on ice
  • Blanket and bright piece of cloth to tie to your antenna should you become stranded
  • Winter coat, hat, and gloves
  • Necessary medications
  • Flashlight and extra batteries
  • A metal cup, candle and waterproof matches used to melt snow for drinking water
  • Non-perishable foods such as Power Bars, nuts, and candy, stored in rodent proof containers
What to do if you are stranded in your car
  • Stay in your car unless you can clearly see a home or business within 100 yards.
  • Tie a brightly colored cloth to your radio antenna or door handle.
  • Beware of carbon monoxide poisoning. Run the car heater every 10 minutes only if you are sure the tail pipe is not clogged with snow, and open a window slightly for ventilation.
  • Do minor exercises to help your circulation.
  • For warmth, huddle together or use anything inside the car to cover your extremities, including maps, newspapers, floor mats and seat covers.
  • If you hear someone approaching, turn on your lights, flashers, or dome lights.
Lists compiled from FEMA and Weather Eye Web home survival kit
  • Water When the power goes out, your water may stop working. Humans can live for many days without food, but water is essential. The Red Cross recommends storing two quarts of water per day for each family member. Recommendations vary for how much drinking water you need, but a five-day supply isn’t unreasonable for Colorado winters. Water can be stored in 5-gallon plastic jugs inside closets; one jug should last 2 1/2 days for a family of four.
  • Food Store food that doesn’t need to be cooked or need water: crackers, peanut butter, dried fruit, sardines, juice, canned milk, nuts, candy bars, non-refrigerated fruit and pudding cups, cereals, canned fruit, etc. Make sure you have a non-electric can opener.
  • Fuel Most furnaces do not work without electricity, so have some other source of heating available in case the power goes out. Fireplaces, wood stoves and kerosene heaters (follow manufacturers’ safety recommendations) may not heat the entire house so close off non-essential rooms. Have extra blankets and sleeping bags on hand. Open cabinet doors below sinks in the kitchen and bathrooms and turn your faucets on to a slow drip to keep the pipes from freezing.
  • Light Store flashlights, extra batteries, candles and matches. Solar yard lights can also provide inside lighting during an emergency.
  • Medication and other emergency items Have at least a one-week supply of essential prescription medications and a first-aid kit. A fire extinguisher, battery powered radio and cell phone should also be part of your home emergency kit.
This list has been compiled using recommendations from FEMA and the American Red Cross. For more information go to: or

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