More snow and bitter cold on the way

Thursday, December 30, 2021

Even though there were peeks of sun over the Steamboat Springs area around noon on this Thursday, clouds have thickened ahead of the last storm in this series that started one week ago. Snow showers have already started at the higher elevations this mid-afternoon and will descend to the Yampa Valley floor this evening and intensify as bitterly cold arctic air begins to filter in, creating difficult travel conditions expected to last from tonight through most of the day Friday. Frigid temperatures will greet the new year as snow showers taper off on New Years Day, with bluebird skies expected to end the weekend and start the first work week of the new year.

An eddy has formed off the coast of California from the storm yesterday while arctic air from western Canada pours into a storm currently moving through the Pacific Northwest. This storm will force that eddy eastward, but not before some moisture associated with the eddy mixes with the upstream storm as it moves through the Great Basin on Friday. So we’ll have plenty of moisture, storm energy and cold air that will produce significant snow over our area from later this evening through Friday afternoon as waves of energy eject out of the storm.

Winds will increase from the southwest from this afternoon through about midnight when they peak, with gusts at mountain top possibly exceeding 60 mph around midnight. Winds will subside as the cold air filters in, but will still remain as mountain top temperatures pretty much take a one-way ride downward from about 15 F after midnight tonight to well below zero by Saturday morning. Temperatures won’t rise much on Saturday either, likely staying below zero, before clearing skies brings the coldest temperatures of the season to our area on Sunday morning.

But the cold temperatures will bring mostly low-density and fluffy snowfall to our area, with 5-10” of new snow expected for the Steamboat Ski Resort Friday morning mid-mountain report, with that much again during the day. Snowfall rates will likely peak between midnight tonight and sunrise Friday morning, perhaps exceeding an inch per hour under the heavier showers, and then gradually decrease but still remain robust through at least noon and possibly mid-afternoon on Friday.

Snow showers look to continue Friday night, but become lighter and more intermittent as they taper off by Saturday afternoon for an additional 2-5”. And in a switch from our usual big snow events, the coldest part of the storm moves overhead Saturday night as the atmosphere dries, so expect negative teens over our area, with the lowest temperatures in the Yampa Valley appearing by Sunday morning, about six hours behind the higher elevations lows expected around Saturday midnight.

Sunday should be a brilliantly sunny but cold winter day as we see our first dry day in over a week. A transient ridge of high pressure is forecast to build and move over our area through the first few days of the new year, with more snow possibilities starting around midweek. Enjoy the powder to start the new year, but be mindful of the extreme cold when outside, especially when reveling, and I’ll be back with my next regularly scheduled weather narrative on Sunday afternoon.

Chances for snow each day for the rest of the year

Sunday, December 26, 2021

Gusty winds and falling temperatures are over the Steamboat Springs area early this Sunday afternoon as the next winter storm moves overhead. Snows will diminish after the storm later tonight, but might not completely end as the atmosphere remains unsettled ahead of our next colder storm for Monday night and early Tuesday. The unsettled weather looks to remain overhead for the duration of the year and may be punctuated by what seems to be our annual storm to start the new year.

The winds picked up when cold air started filtering into our area around 11 am, with sustained speeds of 45 mph and gusts to 70 mph observed at the top of Mt. Werner at 1 pm. The snows have now started, and combined with the wind will make for difficult travel at all elevations as blowing snow obscures visibility and creates slick roads. Expect 2-5” of accumulated snow at mid mountain through the rest of the day if you can find a patch of ground undisturbed by the wind. And combined with the several more inches possible overnight, there could be 4-8” on the Monday morning report.

Even as the snows diminish, a large and persistent trough of low pressure along the West Coast will be recharged by additional waves of energy moving southward from the northern latitudes through the week. Energy almost continually being ejected out of that trough will continue the unsettled weather during the day Monday ahead of our next distinct storm from Monday night through early Tuesday.

This one will carry some colder air than the storm today, and we should see less dense and fluffier snowfall at the end of the storm. Combined with the snow showers during the day Monday, we could see 6-12” of snow by the Tuesday morning report at mid-mountain, and thankfully less wind.

More energy that is forecast to slingshot around the West Coast storm will move mostly to our south behind the storm, thought it may be close enough for continued snow showers during a relatively cool Tuesday and Wednesday. These showers may actually end for a short time later Wednesday as the next wave moving southward from the northern latitudes splits around Vancouver.

This split will be the key to our New Year’s storm as the southern end is forecast to form an eddy and loiter off the coast of California for a day. While the southwest flow ahead of this part of the storm is forecast to draw subtropical moisture northward, the northern part of the split is forecast to move southeastward and over our area on Thursday, keeping the cool weather around and restarting the snow showers.

Finally, possibly the last wave from the north in this long duration winter weather event that started this past Friday is forecast to pass through the Vancouver area Thursday night and force that eddy off of California to the east. While there are still weather pieces that need to come together, we could be looking at a significant snowstorm from Friday into New Year’s morning as the cold air from the north combines with the warm and moist air from the south.

And after a week of almost constant snowfall, It does look like we dry out for at least several days behind that last storm of the year under quite cold temperatures. Stay tuned to my next regularly scheduled weather narrative on Thursday afternoon where I’ll have a much better idea on how much snow we'’ll see for the last day of 2021 and the first day of 2022.

Long duration winter weather event starts tonight

Thursday, December 23, 2021

Clouds and some flurries are over the Steamboat Springs area this Thursday afternoon ahead of a long duration winter weather event that starts in earnest tonight. The question is not how many days it will snow for the upcoming week, but how many days it won’t as several storm systems are forecast to pass through our area. Travel will obviously be difficult or even impossible at times over Rabbit Ears Pass, even though it currently appears most favorable from Christmas afternoon through Sunday morning and on Monday, though elevations at and above pass level may see snows continue, though at much lesser intensities.

Currently an elongated trough of low pressure is centered off the West Coast and extends from the Yukon southwestward to east of Hawaii. Winds are from the southwest for all of the western U.S. ahead of the storm, with the southern part of the storm incorporating a relatively narrow stream of subtropical and even tropical moisture from east and southeast of Hawaii that meteorologists call an atmospheric river.

While there will be plenty of moisture over our area, there will not be much cold air as the winds from the southwest keep relatively warm temperatures overhead. But there will be enough for a couple of cool fronts to move through our area around midnight tonight and later on Friday, with snowfall rates increasing to an inch per hour or more at times under the heavier showers.

I would not expect the snowfall to begin in earnest until around midnight tonight when the first cool front moves through, and 3-6” of snowfall are possible on the 5 am mid-mountain ski report from the Steamboat Ski Resort. Even as that first front moves through, additional energy from the northern latitudes is forecast to reinvigorate the West Coast storm, keeping it mostly in the same place while upstream energy slingshots around the base of the storm and eventually moves overhead.

Weather forecast models have struggled with the exact timing of these waves of energy, with the latest forecasts bringing another cool front through our area later Friday, so expect periods of moderate to heavy snowfall through the day which should diminish overnight and into Saturday morning, though likely not stop. There could be another 4-8” during the day Friday and another 3-6” overnight for a 7-14” Saturday morning report.

There are several concerns with this storm and they all have to do with the prolonged period of southwest flow. Our best snows come when winds are from the northwest and we have strongly falling temperatures, and both of those things will not be happening until possibly next week. Another concern is windy conditions, especially tonight as gusts may exceed 60 mph on top of the mountain.

Winds from the southwest and the west are far less sheltered than the favorable northwest flow over the Steamboat Ski Resort, so relatively dense snow combined with wind may make for difficult skiing, though that is just a guess and I will personally have to investigate that hypothesis tomorrow!

So the weekend will start with a white Christmas, though snows should wane during the day and overnight. Another wave from the northern latitudes rounds the West Coast storm on Saturday, with weather forecast models bringing that overhead Sunday. There is more cold air associated with this than the Friday storm, so we may benefit from less dense and fluffier snow, though winds only briefly turn to the west or just north of west for a short time before temperatures rise as southwest flow again dominates for Monday.

However, there appears to be a break in the stream of moisture for the first part of Monday, so that is currently looking like a brief travel window. But, the next storm is on our doorstep by later Monday, with more significant snow possible for Tuesday, though the weather forecast models disagree on exactly how that West Coast storm will evolve.

I’ve gone well over my self-imposed word limit, even though there is lots more to write about as this long duration event begins. Feel free to ask me about it if you happen to see me on the hill, and be sure to stay tuned to my next regularly scheduled weather narrative sometime on Sunday (usually Sunday afternoon, but I want to leave my ski options open!) where I’ll discuss the upcoming parade of storms.

Beautiful start to the week followed by a snowy Christmas weekend

Sunday, December 19, 2021

Mostly sunny skies with temperatures in the twenties are over the Steamboat Springs area early this Sunday afternoon. More of the same is forecast to start the holiday-shortened work week before clouds increase on Thursday ahead of a long-lasting stormy pattern that may be around for the rest of this year.

Currently, a large trough of low pressure extends southward from the Gulf of Alaska towards Hawaii. Winds from the southwest ahead of the storm have tapped into a plume of subtropical moisture northeast of Hawaii, creating a relatively narrow but long atmospheric river, which in this case is also known as the Pineapple Express. While it is currently directed at the Oregon - Washington border, bringing copious precipitation to that area, the atmospheric river is expected to first move northward as the storm off the coast deepens and tries to form an eddy cut off from the main jet stream.

The main source of uncertainty in the past longer range weather forecasts that were valid this week involved a chunk of cold air from Siberia just now traversing the Bering Strait and how much of this cold air intensified the storm off the West Coast and how much traveled eastward.

The weather forecast models seem to have converged on the idea first suggested by the American GFS last week that most of the cold air will mix with the West Coast storm, forcing it to sink further south and bringing the atmospheric river with it. The end result is likely another massive storm for the Sierra Nevada mountain range, with some forecasts calling for up to 100” of snow starting Wednesday night and lasting through the Christmas weekend.

After the West Coast storm reaches its southern extent late Wednesday, it is then forecast to move east, bringing some of the atmospheric river with it. Weather forecast models have trended later with this eastward movement, and it now looks like we will see thick clouds over our area on Thursday, with relatively warm precipitation breaking out by Thursday night. It is not clear yet whether the lower elevations see any rain ahead of cooler air for Friday.

The cooler air on Friday will be associated with the bulk of the original West Coast storm, even as that area of storminess off the West Coast is reinvigorated by continued waves of cold air dropping southward from the northern latitudes. Expect the showers on Thursday night to become more persistent toward Friday morning, with moderate to heavy snows during the day.

Weather forecast models currently have the snows decreasing by later Friday, though they may not stop through the weekend as waves of energy and moisture continue to eject out of that persistent West Coast trough of low pressure. And at some point during the following week, that trough of low pressure is forecast to move bodily eastward, bringing more snow and very cold temperatures with it.

Several weather pieces will be moving around during our current stretch of gorgeous weather, and how those pieces interact will determine snow amounts for our area later in the week. So stay tuned to my next regularly scheduled weather narrative on Thursday afternoon where I’ll have snowfall guesses for Friday and a better idea of the weather for this Christmas weekend and the last week of 2021.

Next storm starts tonight with a cold but sunny start to the weekend

Thursday, December 16, 2021

Mostly sunny skies and chilly temperatures of 15 F at the Bob Adams airport and 13 F near the top of Mt. Werner are over the Steamboat Springs area this Thursday noon. Our next storm starts this evening with snows tapering off through Friday ahead of a cold start to a mostly sunny weekend.

A cold storm currently moving across the Great Basin will approach our area this afternoon with snow showers starting by this evening. Snows are expected to become more persistent and intense heading toward and after midnight with rates approaching an inch per hour at times before they start becoming more showery after the 5 am Friday morning ski report. We could see 3-6” at mid-mountain by that report, with Steamboat Magic bringing more accumulating snowfall between the report and when the lifts start loading.

While snows will become more showery and taper off through the day and evening, another 1-4” might fall and would be recorded on a quite cold Saturday morning ski report when temperatures both at the base and at the top fall to zero or below. Travel could be difficult at times over Rabbit Ears Pass from about midnight tonight through Friday morning under the heavier showers.

Though Saturday will start cold, the winds will turn to be from the northwest during the storm to the west after the storm and bring warmer and drier air overhead. Valleys will be slow to warm due to fresh snow cover and light winds, but mid and high elevations slopes should see high temperatures in the teens by Saturday afternoon and the twenties by Sunday afternoon under mostly sunny skies.

Meanwhile, a strong storm currently near the Aleutian Islands is forecast to strengthen as it approaches the West Coast and eventually form an eddy cut off from the jet stream. While these types of storms are notoriously difficult to predict due not only to the nature of the storm but the sparse observational network in the middle of the ocean, current forecasts have the storm staying largely off shore through at least the beginning of the short work week. The end result for our area will be continued mostly sunny skies and warming temperatures to start the week, with a chance of snow returning to our area around midweek or soon after.

Be sure to stay tuned to my next regularly scheduled weather narrative on Sunday afternoon where I’ll discuss what will hopefully be the start of a stormy pattern heading into the Christmas holiday.

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30 April 2022

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