This winter has brought a unique weather pattern along the Front Range. For Douglas County, the snow has remained on the ground for a longer period of time, creating ice packed areas.
Douglas County Assistant Director of Public Works Dan Roberts said the current road conditions are a cumulation of unusual weather events that started back in December. The late-year snowstorm was a fairly icy storm and was not for that time of the year Roberts said.
“Since then, we’ve had a combination of very cold weather, very few sunny days for January, a lot of snow events even though they are small,” said Roberts. “And the lack of sun, which is part of our snow strategy here in Colorado, leaves us with these conditions that are lingering.”
According to the National Weather Service, in the Denver metro area, January usually averages about 6.6 inches per year. In 2023, multiple storms brought more than 11 inches.
On average, March is the snowiest month, according to the weather service. January usually ranks sixth.
Roberts said he hasn’t seen this kind of rare snow event since 2008.
There is a contrasting difference in conditions between the main roads and residential streets throughout the county.
“I think that the contrast combined with the duration has led to a lot of citizen comments,” said Roberts.
Douglas County is responsible for snow removal in the unincorporated areas of the county, including roads and neighborhoods in Highlands Ranch. The Highlands Ranch Metro District is responsible for clearing community parking lots and trails.
Unincorporated Douglas County includes six snow removal districts as various parts of the county will have different conditions.The weather in the southeast corner of the county can be drastically different from the north.
During a snowstorm, there are three snow removal priorities for Douglas County: arterial roadways, collector roadways, which includes school bus routes, and local streets. The snow removal program deploys around 55 units - snowplows and motor graders - working 12 hour shifts.
According to the Douglas County website, the first priority is arterial roadways. These include major roadways with high operating speeds and high traffic volumes such as Highlands Ranch Parkway, University and Broadway.
“The rural part of the county is great,” said Roberts. “We can plow those roads, they don’t have curbs or gutters, so we plow and we get the snow off the road.”
To not bury the sidewalks in the urban parts of the county, the main roads are cleared curb to curb.
With 834 lane miles of arterial roadways in Douglas County, snowplows will remain on these roadways until the snowstorm is over to allow emergency vehicles to pass.
Residential roads are plowed after the main roads are clear, Roberts said. In general, the plows will pass down the middle of the road once or twice to make a passable lane for emergency vehicles and for residents. However, these roads do not plow down to bare pavement.
“We don’t plow the parking areas of the road and we don’t plow curb to curb because that would just bury the sidewalks, which the residents are responsible for clearing,” said Roberts.
According to Roberts, the northern part of the county, such as Lone Tree and Parker is where most of the icing takes place due to the density. In neighborhoods like Stonegate and Highlands Ranch, the neighborhoods have more trees, which creates more shade on the roadway, leading to more icing in the street.
After roads and streets are plowed, the crews focus on ice mitigation by using de-icing materials and ice slicers.
The City of Castle Pines, Town of Castle Rock, City of Lone Tree and the Town of Parker have specific snow and ice removal responsibilities.
Homeowner responsibilities may differ as well. The Highlands Ranch Metro District requires snow removal within 24 hours after snow has fallen, whereas all businesses and residential property owners or tenants must remove snow within 48 hours in Castle Rock.
“So with this unusual stretch of weather we’ve got, as long as this weather pattern continues, we’re gonna continue to deal with the ice,” said Roberts.
The best way to contact public works operations about snow and ice removal is by email, or go to the main snow and ice removal page or call the call center at 303-660-7480.