When the National Weather Service began tracking a storm on Feb. 17, it had all the signs of a significant winter weather event typical for the Front Range and Colorado plains in February and March. As two cold fronts approached, one from the west, the other from the north, forecasting models prompted the National Weather Service office in Boulder to issue a winter-storm watch for Elbert County in advance of the weekend.
In the early hours of Feb. 20, the morning sun rose into a clear Colorado-blue sky and temperatures rose into the 50s, offering no validation of the ominous forecast, but county residents seemed to know better and began preparing.
Jessica Miller, assistant manager at Safeway in Elizabeth, said there were more shoppers in the store than on a typical Thursday or Friday.
Grocery stores were not the only business with an increase of traffic.
“Fridays are normally pretty busy,” Angie Riley of Kiowa Country Corner Farm Equipment and Supplies Store said, “but we have more people coming in when we are expecting a storm. Plus we got our chickens in yesterday.”
At noon Feb. 20, just after the first clouds rolled into eastern Elbert County and 11 minutes after the first flakes of snow began lightly falling in Elizabeth, the Weather Service upgraded its watch to a warning.
According to the National Weather Service, a winter storm watch means there is a potential for significant snow that may affect travel, and a winter storm warning for heavy snow means severe winter weather conditions are expected or occurring.
As the forecast worsened, organizations canceled or rescheduled weekend events, shoppers cleaned out supplies of ground beef, eggs, bananas, and potatoes from stores in the storm's path, and Brandon Lenderink, director of the Elbert County Office of Emergency Management, was implementing the county's winter-weather contingencies.
Lenderink initiated a Code Red Alert to warn Elbert County residents of the coming storm and coordinated with county agencies and first responders, reviewing contingencies corresponding to the fury of the storm, which was predicted to deposit up to 2 feet of snow in parts of Elbert County.
During the storm or any emergency within the county, the OEM coordinates the allocation of resources as well as provides updated information to first responders throughout the county as calls come in.
According to Lenderink, the interdepartmental cooperation allows assets to be redirected to assist first responders to reach those in need by redirecting snowplows to clear roads for paramedics.
Elizabeth Fire Chief T.J. Steck said at a one-on-one coordination meeting with Lenderink, “It's really great being in a county where everyone wants to work together.”