Three people die in separate weather-related crashes as Weld County roads get slick | MyWindsorNow.com
Nate A. Miller | nmiller@greeleytribune.com

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Three people die in separate weather-related crashes as Weld County roads get slick

A snow plow waits to turn as cars and trucks slowly move past at the intersection of U.S 85 and Colo 392 near Lucerne. The plow was out helping mitigate the effects of the freezing rain that swept through the area hours before. Forecasters say roads will likely be slick and ice covered for the morning commute.

Campus closures

Aims Community College closed all its campuses at 4 p.m. Wednesday because of icy roads throughout Weld County. Aims officials also moved the GroundVark Day to 12:30 p.m. Thursday. It had originally been scheduled for 8:30 a.m. Thursday. The event, which is part of the college’s 50-year anniversary commemoration, is a play on Groundhog Day involving the college’s aardvark mascot.

The University of Northern Colorado also closed its campus at 5 p.m. Wednesday, canceling evening classes and all evening activities on campus. The closures include:

» The University Center.

» Michener Library will close at 7 p.m. Skinner Music Library will close at 6 p.m.

» Divison I Athletics practices are canceled.

» UNC’s Center at Centerra in Loveland is closed Wednesday evening and classes are canceled.

The UNC Recreation Center and dining halls remained open. University officials anticipated a return to normal schedule on Thursday.

An unusual freezing drizzle storm contributed to three deaths Wednesday on Weld County roads, kept first responders busy with numerous traffic crashes and caused lots of injuries from slipping and falling.

"We did get enough drizzle that it started to accumulate on surfaces," said Todd Dankers, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Boulder. "When the surfaces cooled off and got below freezing, that drizzle just froze on the surfaces, and you got those ice-rink like conditions."

He said all it took was less than one-tenth of an inch of precipitation.

"It was kind of a wakeup call to us that when you're talking about this glaze ice, it doesn't take much to turn everything dangerous," he said.

“It was kind of a wakeup call to us that when you’re talking about this glaze ice, it doesn’t take much to turn everything dangerous.

— Todd Dankers, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Boulder

Colorado State Patrol spokesman Trooper Josh Lewis said three people died in separate Weld traffic crashes on Wednesday, after the ice storm hit.

» The first crash happened just before 3:10 p.m. on Colo. 392 at Weld County Road 45, about three miles east of Lucerne. The crash happened when the driver of a 2004 GMC sport utility vehicle lost control and the vehicle rolled over. The driver was a 63-year-old woman. She was killed. No one else was in the vehicle.

» Later, just before 3:30 p.m., troopers were dispatched to a crash on Colo. 14, about a mile east of Ault. The crash involved two pickup trucks, and each truck was hauling a trailer. One person, a 27-year-old man, died in the crash, he said. Several other victims were taken by ambulance to North Colorado Medical Center. In both those cases, he said, crews on scene requested sand because of the slick conditions.

» Just after 7 p.m., a single-vehicle rollover crash about six miles east of Roggen on Interstate 76 killed a man. Lewis said because troopers were busy working to keep up with the high number of crashes, he didn't immediately have any additional information about any of the crashes or the victims. So far this year, seven people have died on Weld roads. Through this date last year, one person had died.

Weld County Sheriff's Office spokesman Cpl. Matt Turner said emergency dispatchers and sheriff's deputies were kept busy, handling numerous traffic crashes. He urged drivers to use caution, noting it isn't always visible when ice has coated a road.

"This stuff, you can't see it," he said. "We really want everyone to be safe."

Turner said all drivers need to take it slow and drive carefully.

"Give yourself time to get where you're going and then drive aware of what other people are doing on the road," he said. "Drive safe."

Banner Health spokesman Paul Matthews said North Colorado Medical Center emergency room doctors also were busy.

"I can tell you that we certainly had an influx of car accident patients," he said. "We also had quite a few people who slipped — a lot of slips and falls."

Colorado Department of Transportation spokesman Jared Fiel said CDOT crews were working as quickly as they could to sand icy roads.

"It's been a little crazy," he said Wednesday afternoon. "We've got crews out. We're trying to stay on top of both the road closures and sand down any intersections or any really icy spots. This thing came up pretty quick."

Fiel said CDOT had some advance warning of it, and crews tried to get the upper hand, but it wasn't easy.

"It was hard to stay on top of it, as quickly as it froze," he said.

Fiel said Colo. 14 was closed about two miles west of Ault because of the traffic crash. Colo. 392 also was closed at Weld County Road 55 for much of the night.

Dankers said the freezing drizzle did catch forecasters somewhat by surprise. Still the National Weather Service issued a winter weather advisory early on Wednesday afternoon.

"We were fearful that the situation was right, that we had the low-level moisture and the temperatures would be right in the sweet spot to make the freezing drizzle," he said.

If it had been colder, the moisture in the clouds would have become snow. With temperatures as they were — Wednesday's high reached 57 — the moisture stayed freezing drizzle.

He said the fact that residents hadn't had to deal with a storm like this in many years likely contributed to the danger

"It's unusual to have it like this," he said, noting it may have been as much as about five years since northern Colorado residents had seen a storm like this. "People who have recently moved here, or who haven't had to deal with it in the past few years, forget how bad it can get."

Today's high in Greeley is expected to reach 33 degrees, with drizzle and patchy fog in the morning, under mostly cloudy skies. Clear skies will return Friday, and the high will reach 37 degrees, according to the weather service.

Still, Dankers said commuters must use caution this morning.

"It's not going to melt overnight," he said of the ice. "The slippery-glaze of ice that's out there now is still going to be there in the morning."

He said the roads may not look slick, even if they are. The glaze of ice frequently looks like a wet road.

"Don't go out if you don't have to," he said.