DENVER — The Colorado Department of Transportation takes on Mother Nature in triggering avalanches near I-70 and the Eisenhower Tunnel Wednesday.
The goal is to alleviate the unstable snow loads on their terms, instead of waiting until they naturally fall — and potentially hurt someone.
The risk for further avalanches was “considerable” Wednesday. And another storm is brewing in the high country tonight, which could increase the danger.
But for drivers on I-70, mitigation work should keep them safe.
“There’s significant danger that’s hanging above you,” says CDOT worker Tom Hurst.
CDOT workers use explosives to blast slabs of snow that can fall at any time.
“If it comes in and snows this afternoon, tonight and tomorrow, we could get a foot up here and we’d probably have to do it again the next day,” says Hurst.
The work keeps the state’s highways clear and its drivers and passengers safe.
CDOT mitigates more often with smaller snow amounts to avoid huge, spectacular slides like this one that they triggered down the Bethel chute near Loveland Pass Friday.
They also triggered one that closed U.S. 40 on Berthoud Pass Tuesday and one that shut down the highway one week ago.
This season could be the biggest in nearly 20 years. Snow amounts could surpass what fell in 1995 if the snow keeps falling until April, according to Lee Metzger, with the Colorado Avalanche Information Center.
But he says little can be done to mitigate slides in the back country.
“Back country skiers could find a place not tested all year and the potential, all the layers, base layers, could fail. That’s why we’re seeing very big avalanches at this time,” he says.
Those in the back country are on their own.
But for drivers, the state will keep trying to shake loose the deadly potential of slides — keeping them smaller — so they don’t cause big harm.
CDOT uses a helicopter to drop explosives in areas they can’t reach with their avalanche gun.
But in the case Tuesday near A-Basin that closed U.S. 6, that was the first time a helicopter could get into the area because of bad weather — and since they’d received such heavy snow loads.