Storms for midweek and Christmas weekend

Sunday, December 18, 2022

Temperatures have warmed into the mid-single digits this Sunday mid-morning in the Steamboat Springs area under bluebird skies. Sunny skies today and Monday with continued brisk temperatures will give way to increasing clouds and light snow showers on Tuesday and Tuesday night. Another arctic front follows later Wednesday with significant accumulations expected by Thursday morning along with bitterly cold temperatures. A short break to end the work week will be followed by another round of snows starting later Friday and lasting into Christmas Eve.

My weather station near the base of the Steamboat Ski Resort recorded an astonishing -18 F around 8:30 am to start this Sunday, while the temperature near the top of the resort at the Storm Peak Lab was a more reasonable 6 F. Clear skies, fresh snow and light winds allowed the cold air to pool in the Yampa Valley, forming a temperature inversion where the temperature increases with elevation, a relatively common occurrence in high mountain valleys, especially after winter storms.

Temperatures in town will likely stay several degrees below our average high of 27 F despite the sunny skies today and Monday as the low sun angle around the winter solstice, which occurs at 2:47 pm on Wednesday, December 21, conspires with a highly reflective snow surface to limit daytime heating.

After another cold below zero morning on a mostly sunny Monday, increasing clouds Monday night ahead of our next storm system may bring some flurries and keep overnight lows much warmer than the past two days, likely above our average of 4 F, as the clouds insulate the surface like a blanket.

This next storm is currently rounding a sharp ridge of high pressure extending from the east-central Pacific through the Bering Sea and past the Arctic Circle. Bitterly cold air from western Canada will mix with the storm as it travels southward along the eastern side of the ridge of high pressure. Light snow showers in advance of the storm should start later Tuesday and last into Wednesday, bringing 1-4” of snow to mid-mountain for the Wednesday morning ski report.

By later Wednesday, the arctic front associated with the storm will be on our doorstep along with increasing winds, with moderate to heavy snowfall forecast into Thursday morning along with difficult travel over Rabbit Ears Pass at times. There is some weather forecast model uncertainty with respect to how cold and how much snow we may see, though I am inclined to side with the colder and snowier model solutions and would expect 6-12” of light and dry powder along with high temperatures at the top of the hill below zero, and near zero in town.

We should see a break in the snowfall by Thursday afternoon and into Friday ahead of our next storm currently timed for later Friday into Christmas Eve day. Early indications are that this storm may also be significant and will be accompanied by warmer temperatures as Pacific energy undercuts the Bering Sea ridge of high pressure and severs or at least partially interrupts the arctic tap of cold air.

There is additional weather forecast model uncertainty around the weekend storm, but I’ll have more details about that in my next regularly scheduled weather narrative on Thursday afternoon.

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23 February 2021

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