If residents of Southwest Colorado felt a deep chill in the air Wednesday morning, nobody would blame them: The mercury dipped to new lows based on at least two decades of record-keeping.
The National Weather Service in Grand Junction reported that a weather station at the Durango-La Plata County Airport recorded a temperature of minus 14 degrees around 5:40 a.m.
The weather station at the airport has been in place for about 20 to 25 years, said meteorologist Scott Sterns, and the minus 14-degree temperature was the lowest recorded for the day.
It is not, however, the lowest the weather station at the airport has ever recorded. That mark was set in 2011 when the temperature dropped to minus 27 degrees, Sterns said.
In downtown Durango, an unofficial report had temperatures as low as minus 4 degrees Wednesday morning, Sterns said. A weather station at the Cortez Municipal Airport also recorded minus 5 degrees around 7:30 a.m.
And taking the cake is Silverton, where at an elevation of 9,318 feet, a human observation reported a reading of minus 24 degrees around 8 a.m.
Sterns said the recent snowfall helped drive temperatures below zero, but the main factor was skies were cloudless Tuesday night into Wednesday morning.
At night, cloud coverage helps trap warm air, so when there’s no clouds, temperatures tend to drop, Sterns said.
A series of snowstorms the past few days brought much-needed snow to Southwest Colorado.
Before the storms, snowpack levels at high elevation sites were at just 65% or so of historic averages for this time of year. As of Wednesday, that number had boosted up to nearly 80% of averages.
Purgatory Resort was reporting 37 inches of new snow in the past five days. Wolf Creek Ski Area, known among ski aficionados as a magnet for snow, reported more than 4 feet of new snow in the past week.
Although the arrival of winter and snowfall is a welcome sight in drought-strapped Colorado, it does present some challenges for those living homeless, said Tim Sargent, an organizer at the campsite at Purple Cliffs.
Sargent said it’s important to prepare for winter when living homeless, insulating tents, finding the best sleeping bags and clothing possible, and even trying to obtain propane heaters.
Sargent said both Vineyard Church and Neighbors In Need Alliance have helped supply propane this winter. The campsite also has community tents with heaters where campers can warm up.
Ellis Canvas Tents also donated five canvas tents. Sargent said residents at the camp are always in need of additional blankets, sleeping bags or clothing.
“We get a lot of community support,” he said. “All in all, we’re doing well.”
Sargent said the number of campers fluctuates, but usually averages around 50 people, aged anywhere from 10 years old to 70 years old. Preparing for winter is much easier with a stationary site, he said.
“That’s why it’s so important having this campsite,” he said. “Especially in winter.”
Sterns with the Weather Service said temperatures should rise over the next few days as an incoming system is expected to bring cloud coverage. There’s a chance for snow Friday throughout Southwest Colorado.