COLORADO SPRINGS, CO – The unpredictability of nature was on full display Monday when an unseasonal blizzard hit Pikes Peak, a renowned landmark known as America’s Mountain. The severe weather disrupted normal operations, prompting evacuations and road closures at the Pikes Peak Summit Complex and the Broadmoor Manitou and Pikes Peak Cog Railway.
Skyler Rorabaugh, Manager at Pikes Peak, reported that Monday’s evacuation was prompted by severe snow and whiteout conditions. Snow drifts as high as three feet and ice layers up to half an inch thick on the roads were reported on Tuesday, complicating road access and shuttle services.
“The cog railway resumed operation up to the summit on Tuesday afternoon, but the shuttle service was not available,” said Rorabaugh. He indicated that 13 of the 19-mile road would be open, but anticipated late-day storms might cause the summit to remain closed for road traffic.
Ranger Stephen L. Peterson, who was on duty at the peak, managed to capture the stark contrast of the summer snow. According to Peterson, while heavy rain and hail battered Colorado Springs, Pikes Peak was grappling with blizzard conditions that lasted for several hours.
Despite the unnerving conditions, there were no reported injuries from the sudden whiteout. However, the blizzard served as a reminder of the abrupt and harsh weather changes that can occur in this high-altitude location, even during summer. Peterson added, “Summer snow is no stranger to America’s Mountain, but a full-fledged mid-June blizzard just might be.”
The blizzard was caused by an upper-level area of low pressure moving across eastern Colorado, producing snow and wind atop Pikes Peak. Meanwhile, roughly 50-75 miles east, Colorado Springs was hit by large hail and Tornado Warnings.
Colorado Springs reported its wettest two-day period on record between Sunday and Monday, with rainfall totals reaching nearly five-and-a-half inches, primarily falling on Monday. Concurrently, the surrounding mountain areas experienced snowfall as low as 11,000 or 12,000 feet. The icy spectacle on the peaks was clearly visible from Denver, giving the lower Front Range a distinctly wintry feel.
As of Tuesday, the last six miles of the road to the Pikes Peaks summit were closed due to icy conditions.
Safety Tips and Lessons Learned
Given the unpredictable weather conditions, here are some safety tips for future visitors to Pikes Peak:
Check Weather Forecasts: Always check the weather forecasts and conditions before setting out to Pikes Peak, especially during transitional seasons.
Carry Essential Gear: Carry warm clothing, food, water, and emergency kits. Conditions can change suddenly, making it essential to be prepared.
Be Aware of Road Closures: Stay informed about road conditions and possible closures, especially during adverse weather. Visitors can check the Pikes Peak Highway’s road condition messages for updates.
Adhere to Warnings and Evacuations: Heed all warnings and evacuate promptly when told to do so. Safety personnel on site, like Skyler Rorabaugh and Ranger Peterson, have a good understanding of the risks involved.
This unusual blizzard serves as a reminder that nature is unpredictable and can change rapidly, especially in high-altitude areas like Pikes Peak. Visitors must remain vigilant, prioritize safety, and respect the forces of nature.