Fort Collins breaks 121-year-old cold record; 2 more die in Colorado avalanches

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A stubborn cold snap that slid into Colorado’s eastern half last week is saving its coldest for last, producing record-breaking temperatures, school closures and even pleas to cut back on electricity.

Fort Collins received 2.7 inches of snow Saturday into Sunday. Up to a foot of snow fell in some parts of the mountains, where two more people died in avalanches Sunday. 

Here’s a look at the weekend’s temperatures, what’s still to come and the cold snap’s toll:

Temperature check 

The National Weather Service has issued a wind chill warning for Fort Collins and the Eastern Plains until 11 a.m. Monday. Wind chill for Fort Collins, which is on the extreme western edge of the warning, has seen values in the minus-20 degree range. Burlington, on the far eastern edge of the warning, reached minus-45 degrees with the wind chill.

Fort Collins easily broke its Valentine’s Day record for the coldest high temperature Sunday, when the city reached a high of 2 degrees. The record had been 6 degrees set in 1900.

The Sunday night low of minus-11 was the coldest since Jan. 16, 2017, when it reached minus-16, according to state climatologist Russ Schumacher. The weather service forecast called for a low of 2 degrees Monday night, which would snap a streak of four consecutive nights of subzero temperatures.

Schumacher posted via Twitter on Sunday that, despite the cold snap, Fort Collins’ streak of a high temperature at or above zero remains in check. The current streak of 8,799 days as of Monday, more than 24 years, is the longest streak in the city’s weather history dating to 1900. 

The cold snap began Feb. 7, when Schumacher said the temperature dropped 23 degrees in 10 minutes in Fort Collins. The city had a high of 54 that day but has not gotten above freezing since then. Schumacher said the city seeing eight consecutive days where the high never reaches freezing hasn’t happened since 1993. 

The National Weather Service’s forecast high for Monday is 14 degrees. Fort Collins’ forecast high is 31 degrees Tuesday through Thursday. It won’t be until the weekend that Fort Collins sees near-normal temperatures in the mid-40s.

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Call to conserve

Platte River Power Authority issued a call to conserve message Sunday afternoon, asking customers in Estes Park, Fort Collins, Longmont and Loveland to reduce electricity use Sunday due to the unprecedented cold weather.

The energy company said via its Twitter page at 9:30 p.m. Sunday that it continues to ask customers to conserve energy during the cold snap.

Fort Collins Utilities, which gets its energy from Platte River, also asked customers to cut back on energy use Sunday.

Colorado State University closed

Poudre School District classes were already dismissed Monday for Presidents Day, but Colorado State University also canceled classes Monday due to the cold temperatures.

“COVID-19 public health standards require that increased outdoor air be circulated through buildings,” according to a news release from the university. “Unfortunately, the university’s heating systems will likely not be able to keep building temperatures above suitable levels for operations because of the extremely cold weather.”

Prior to the closure, CSU had planned to enter Phase III of its COVID-19 response on Monday, moving classes that had been taught in a hybrid model to in-person learning.

City of Fort Collins and Larimer County offices were also closed for Presidents Day.

Avalanche deaths mounting

A snowmobiler near Winter Park and a backcountry snowboarder near Loveland Pass died in avalanches Sunday, bringing the number of avalanche fatalities in Colorado to 10 so far this year. Six of those fatalities have occurred this month.

Ethan Greene, director of the Colorado Avalanche Information Center, said the state hasn’t seen such dangerous snowpack since 2012, when 11 people died due to Colorado avalanches.

The danger stems from a persistent weak snow layer near the ground. When snow piles up on the weak layer, avalanches occur, with many avalanches breaking near the ground and running wider and longer than usual.

Greene said backcountry users will need to adjust where and when they go in the backcountry due to the unusual conditions. He said the dangerous conditions will continue the remainder of the season.

He advised people to check the center’s forecast before heading to the backcountry.

The center has issued a special avalanche advisory for the Cameron Peak area west of Fort Collins through 8 p.m. Monday, warning backcountry travelers that “normal routes and safety habits may not keep you out of a dangerous avalanche.”

An avalanche watch was in place for the Aspen and Crested Butte areas until Tuesday morning.

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Reporter Miles Blumhardt looks for stories that impact your life. Be it news, outdoors, sports — you name it, he wants to report it. Have a story idea? Contact him at milesblumhardt@coloradoan.com or on Twitter @MilesBlumhardt. Support his work and that of other Coloradoan journalists by purchasing a digital subscription today.