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Next chance for snow about a week away

Thursday, December 3, 2020

After the storm on Opening Day, a cold and dry air mass has settled over the Steamboat Springs area, bringing cold nights and sunny days. There won’t be much change to our weather for the upcoming week, though we can look forward to warming daytime highs closer to our average of 31 F. There is hope, however, that our area will see snow chances return in about a week.

That Opening Day storm was far more productive than advertised, with 6” reported at mid-mountain on Wednesday morning and 11” shown on the Steamboat Powdercam at the top of Sunshine Peak behind Patrol Headquarters, most of which fell during the day Tuesday. Snow density was very low thanks to the cold temperatures which encouraged the formation of dendrites, which are the classic and familiar branch-shaped snow crystal. The branches of the dendrites allow lots of space to separate each fallen crystal which inflates the depth of accumulated snowfall.

With clear sunny days and cool nights, the most interesting aspect of our upcoming week’s weather will be the temperatures, specifically the formation of night time temperature inversions. These occur when cold air pools at the lower elevations, becoming colder than the air aloft, which is the opposite of the normal atmospheric temperature profile which cools with height. For example, the low temperature this morning was -2 F at the Bob Adams airport, -6 F at my house near the base of the mountain (lower in elevation than the airport) and 4 F at the top of Mt. Werner. The conditions that support the formation of temperature inversions, mainly snow cover (the fresher the better), clear night skies, light winds and low sun angle will persist this upcoming week so expect the cold starts to the morning with warmer temperatures found higher on the mountain to continue.

A pattern change may be in the offing though, as a storm traveling across the Gulf of Alaska makes landfall in the Pacific Northwest mid-weekend and forms an eddy cut off from the jet stream. This eddy is forecast to dive through the western Great Basin early next work week, taking up residence near Baja and southern California, before another Gulf of Alaska storm makes landfall, again in the Pacific Northwest, around midweek.

Eventually, these storms will interact, with the southern storm possibly transporting subtropical moisture northward that can be incorporated into the northern storm or perhaps being ejected out ahead of the northern storm. As might be expected this far out, there is a lot of uncertainty as to how these storm will interact, though longer-term weather forecast models agree that a ridge of high pressure builds in the Gulf of Alaska behind that second northern storm. This may allow favorable and moist northwest flow to set up over our area around the next weekend, though it is unclear for how long that may persist

Enjoy what will likely be a gorgeous upcoming week of weather, and I should know more about this pattern change in my next regularly scheduled weather narrative on Sunday afternoon.

Some snow and cold for Opening Day

Sunday, November 29, 2020

Bluebird skies and temperatures in the upper thirties are over the Steamboat Springs area this Sunday afternoon. After another day like today on Monday, a storm will cross the Pacific Northwest coast Monday morning and affect our area starting Tuesday with low intensity snowfall and colder temperatures. The cold will hang around for Wednesday, along with some likely non-accumulating afternoon showers, and most of Thursday before we see warming and drying heading into and through the weekend.

Lift-served skiing is back in Steamboat Springs this weekend as the local Howelsen Hill, which is the the oldest operating ski area in North America, opened on Saturday and offered free skiing on Sunday. Opening weekend was graced by warm days and brilliant blue skies, with more of the same weather forecast for Monday. The Steamboat Ski Area will open on Tuesday with the opposite weather as an incoming storm is forecast to bring cooler temperatures and some light snowfall.

That storm is forecast to cross the Pacific Northwest coast early Monday before splitting as it first travels across the northern Rockies and then over our area by Tuesday. Splitting storms are always a forecast challenge due to the uncertainty of how the energy is partitioned between the two branches of the storm, and the storm for Opening Day is no different.

Even at this close range, the weather forecast models disagree on how strong the southern part of the split storm will be and whether it passes over our area or drifts to our west. Of course, we’ll see the most snow if the storm passes overhead, but even then the storm lacks much moisture and only an inch or two are expected at the lower elevations with twice that much possible up high. A stronger split storm traveling further west would further decrease even those meager accumulations.

Regardless, it looks like cooler temperatures will be in store for Tuesday, Wednesday and possibly Thursday as the northern branch of the split storm eventually passes close enough to keep the cold air around. There may be some light snow showers that accompanies the northern branch when it moves by later Wednesday, but again accumulations, if they occur, would be meager.

We’ll start cold Thursday morning, and whether we stay cold through the day will be determined by the evolution of this complicated storm. By Friday, it appears all of the forecast uncertainty will be for areas to our west, south and east as an amplifying ridge of high pressure moves overhead and brings dry air and warming temperatures.

This gorgeous weather is expected to continue through next weekend and into the beginning of the next work week. For those anxious for more winter weather, longer-range weather forecast models have been indicating some sort of storm and a pattern change starting around the following weekend. I should have a better idea about this possible return of winter weather by my next regularly scheduled weather narrative on Thursday afternoon.

Nice weekend of weather ahead

Thursday, November 26, 2020

It is snowing lightly this Thanksgiving afternoon in Steamboat Springs, with 3” of what looks like low-density, fluffy accumulations on the Steamboat Powdercam and about an inch on my deck. Snows will taper off by midnight after several more inches fall at the higher elevations before a chilly Friday morning is followed by sun and warming temperatures that will persist through Monday. And it now looks like we have cooler temperatures with some snow chances to commemorate our rescheduled Opening Day at the Steamboat Ski Area on Tuesday, 1 December.

Our current wintry Thanksgiving is courtesy of a splitting storm that is bringing enough moisture and energy over our area for some persistent snowfall of light intensity. Cold air will continue to infiltrate our area overnight behind the storm for a chilly Friday morning with low temperatures around zero, which is about ten degrees below our average of 11 F. But a ridge of high pressure that has built behind the storm moves over our area starting on Friday for warming temperatures and sunny skies.

More gorgeous weather is forecast for Saturday before a a grazing storm moving through the top of the ridge of high pressure may be close enough to bring some cooler air and clouds for Sunday. But if any clouds do appear, they will be chased away by a warm and sunny Monday.

There has been a lot of uncertainty in the weather forecast models starting around Tuesday, and the latest consensus is that a storm moving through the Gulf of Alaska will make landfall along the Pacific Northwest coast early Monday before moving first to the east and then the southeast before it eventually passes overhead on Tuesday. That early easterly trajectory looks to allow the Cascades to grab most of the moisture from the storm, though the storm stays cold and several inches of snowfall is now looking possible through the day Tuesday and overnight.

The storm is forecast to form some sort of eddy nearby or overhead, and it may not be completely cut off from the jet stream which makes predicting its movement difficult. And that eddy may itself split, leaving some of the storm near our area and some migrating to the southwest. Right now, it looks like precipitation ends early Wednesday as the cold air sticks around for the day before we see a cold Thursday morning give way to sun and warming temperatures.

And though there is an active jet stream forecast over the Pacific during this time frame, our weather is looking quiet as we head into the following weekend. Stay tuned to my next regularly scheduled weather narrative late on Sunday afternoon for an update to our Opening Day weather, and enjoy the beautiful upcoming weekend.

Moderate storm later Monday with some Thanksgiving snowflakes possible

Sunday, November 22, 2020

After a chilly start this Sunday morning, the Steamboat Springs area is seeing temperatures in the low forties under sunny skies. Clouds will be increasing later today ahead of a moderate storm that starts Monday afternoon, with the heaviest snowfall expected overnight. Skies will clear later Tuesday with Wednesday being an in-between day before some light snow is possible on Thanksgiving.

A storm currently crossing the West Coast will be over our area Monday night, with clouds increasing ahead of the storm later today. Some energy ejecting out of the storm may bring a shower or two overnight and tomorrow morning before a bit of accumulating snow is forecast by sunset as some cool air filters in. The main part of the storm is expected to pass through our area overnight, with the bulk of the snowfall occurring between midnight and early Tuesday morning before tapering off by around noon.

There is some splitting indicated in the weather forecast models as the storm crosses Colorado, but enough of the storm may pass overhead for 4-8” to accumulate above mid-mountain and about half that in town. Snowfall rates may exceed an inch per hour at times, though winds will pick up well behind the storm so travel may only be moderately difficult at times.

Precipitation should end after noon on Tuesday with some sun appearing for later Tuesday and Wednesday. But another storm, currently over the Bering Sea, is forecast to intensify and quickly move across the Gulf of Alaska on Tuesday and across our area on Thanksgiving Day. In my last Thursday weather narrative, I suggested that a dry forecast for Thanksgiving might change as our weather could eventually be some sort of wetter comprise between storms to our south and north. And indeed, it now it appears that some sort of stretched storm will pass overhead with some light snow possible from Thanksgiving afternoon through Friday morning. At this point, accumulations would be minor at best, but we’ll see where we stand when I publish my next weather narrative, which I may move up to Wednesday or leave to my usual time slot on Thursday afternoon.

A ridge of high pressure then tries to build over the West from later Friday into Saturday, though a dry storm flattening the ridge later Saturday may graze our area with some cooler air on Sunday. Another ridge of high pressure follows for Monday, and it is unclear what the weather will be for the new Opening Day of the Steamboat Ski Area on Tuesday, 1 December.

Meager snow for Saturday morning followed by much better storm on Monday

Thursday, November 19, 2020

Temperatures are running about ten degrees above our average of 39 F this Thursday afternoon under mostly cloudy skies, with peeks of sun. A couple of weak storms passing through today and Friday night into Saturday morning look to bring only slight chances for snow, with meager accumulations possible on Saturday. A more potent storm is becoming more likely for Monday into Tuesday morning followed by dry weather through Thanksgiving.

I guess under the current circumstances it is not surprising that both the storm and Opening Day that were expected for this Saturday have gone missing. That storm, as well as the current cloudiness over our area are the result of a couple of ripples in the fast westerly flow of the jet stream passing near our area. While I don’t expect any precipitation from today’s storm, there is a better chance of some meager accumulations from Friday night into Saturday morning of up to an inch or two.

A ridge of high pressure ahead of a potent storm currently in the Bering Sea is forecast to build over our area for a nice Sunday. The Bering Sea storm is forecast to cross the Gulf of Alaska and make landfall on the West Coast later that day before affecting our area with likely snowfall on Monday through Tuesday morning. The cold front associated with the storm is currently timed to be through our area by noon on Monday, with winds shifting to be from the west to the favorable northwest. Though the evolution of the storm is uncertain at this time, current weather forecast models have generally light to moderate snowfall over our area through the rest of the day and overnight before tapering off during Tuesday morning, leaving around 5-10” of accumulations.

A ridge of high pressure behind the storm should bring clearing skies later Tuesday and Wednesday before substantial weather forecast model disagreement appears for Thanksgiving. And while the European ECMWF has a much stronger storm crossing the West Coast on Wednesday as compared to the American GFS (which incidentally has trended strongly towards the ECMWF for the Monday storm), both keep our area dry, with the ECMWF splitting the storm around northern Colorado and the GFS quickly moving a shallow wave to our north.

We can only hope at this point that both are wrong, and it is possible that a compromise solution may bring some sort of storm overhead for Thanksgiving. With such a range of possibilities for Thursday, I’ll refrain from commenting on the weather forecast for the following weekend until my next regularly scheduled weather narrative on Sunday afternoon.

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