Colorado Department of Transportation spokeswoman Stacey Stegman knew what kind of a week she'd have when she drove to work early yesterday morning, during day one of an event that seems likely to continue through today at least.
"I saw a car merging at I-25 and Hampden going fast -- way too fast -- and it spun out and hit the concrete barrier," she says. "A lot of people have been driving way too fast, which is why we've seen so many of them end up in ditches."
Weather forecasters hardly have an unblemished record in these parts, but they got this storm right, allowing CDOT to gather its forces early.
"We actually called everybody out Tuesday night," Stegman points out. "We had a full snow shift on by nine o'clock, and when I started calling everyone at around four or 4:30 that morning, they said, 'It's a little slushy, that's all.' But within an hour and a half, it was an entirely different story" -- one that didn't allow CDOT to try to create better driving through chemistry.
"Unfortunately, this type of heavy, wet snow didn't allow us to use a lot of de-icer, because it becomes diluted and ineffective," she notes. "So mostly, we had to just keep plowing and try to keep the snow and slush off the road."
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That changed in certain areas as the pavement began to ice up after nightfall. But CDOT's 74 plows, manned in rotating, twelve-hour shifts that change at 5 a.m. and 5 p.m., stayed on duty, Stegman says. Of course, they can't be everywhere at once, which explains why I didn't see a single one during the twenty minutes I spent on C-470 along the foothills yesterday morning, and prioritizing can mean even large surface streets may receive short shrift. "We try to concentrate on the most heavily traveled freeways, which is why you sometimes see roads like Kipling and University get a little more slick," she admits.
When told about our list of states whose residents are the most dangerous in a storm, Stegman laughingly declines to weigh in -- but she does point a finger at a specific type of driver who can create problems in conditions like these: the cocky ones with big-ass vehicles. "It takes longer to stop in an SUV than it does in another vehicle, and when you're on ice, nothing stops," she says.
As for surviving today, Stegman offers the usual slow-and-steady advice -- "but I think that if you don't have to be out -- if you can stay home, or have the luxury of working from home -- that's ideal."