Snow and cold to continue through the weekend

Thursday, January 11, 2024

The sun has appeared briefly this Thursday mid afternoon in Steamboat Springs and takes the edge off the current temperatures in the mid teens, which are almost fifteen degrees below our average high of 29 F. Say goodbye to the sun until next Tuesday as four more waves of snow move overhead starting tonight and lasting into Martin Luther King Jr. Day. And very strong winds accompanying the second wave will make travel difficult to impossible at times from Friday morning through most of the night due to blowing snow.

A sharp ridge of high pressure still extends from Alaska to the North Pole while a deep and cold trough of low pressure just downstream spans from the North Pole across Canada and most of the U.S. Additionally, and what will lead to heavy snowfall rates from Saturday night through Sunday noon, a storm currently extends from the Aleutian Islands southward to Hawaii and has incorporated a stream of tropical and subtropical moisture in a so-called atmospheric river.

The low pressure area over most of North America is anchored by a vortex of bitterly cold air over the Northwest Territories of Canada that currently contains surface temperatures around -40 F, which incidentally is also the same in Celsius. This bitterly cold air is on the move as energy spins counterclockwise around the vortex and drags a chunk of that cold air toward our area by Friday night.

The jet stream ahead of that cold air, which is quite strong thanks to the temperature difference between the West Coast and northern Rockies, is forecast to bring very strong winds overhead from the west and hopefully the northwest on Friday, peaking around noon with sustained mountain top winds as high as 40 mph and gusts nearly twice that.

Ahead of that, snowfall should redevelop tonight with the first wave, and including the several inches that fell this morning we should see a 4-8” mid mountain report on Friday morning. Increasing winds through the morning could create a problem for lift operations at the Steamboat Ski Resort as the afternoon approaches. Travel will also be problematic thanks to blowing snow, becoming difficult to impossible at times over Rabbit Ears Pass from late morning Friday through most of the night.

The cold front associated with the second wave should move through later Friday accompanied by moderate to heavy snow. Another 5-10” is possible for the Saturday morning report at mid mountain, with snow quality likely suffering thanks to the overnight winds. Snows will continue through the day with 2-5” expected.

But the main event begins later Saturday as the southern part of that Aleutian storm breaks away and moves underneath the Alaskan ridge of high pressure on Friday night. This storm and the associated atmospheric river should lead to consistently high snowfall rates starting Saturday night and continuing through Sunday morning, with an 8-16” Sunday morning report and another 4-8” falling during the day.

But more energy rotating around the Northwest Territories in the fourth wave will combine with the tail end of the Aleutian storm later Sunday and the associated leftover moisture to create another period of moderate to heavy snowfall that will last through most of Martin Luther King Jr. Day. We could wake up to another 8-16” on Monday morning with more snow falling during the day.

There are a lot of moving pieces which are meteorologically interesting, but the main message is a long duration winter storm that starts tonight and lasts through the weekend. Total accumulations should be in the 10-20” range in town and twice that at the Steamboat Ski Resort, with hazardous travel on Friday. We will be right on the edge of the coldest air as the jet stream overlays a somewhat stationary front extending from northern Nevada across northern Utah and northern Colorado, and though we may see some relative warming as distinct waves of energy approach, cold temperatures will be the general rule.

In fact, the coldest temperatures are forecast for Tuesday in the wake of this event if skies clear, with low temperatures below zero, and likely well below. Enjoy what should be a monster weekend of snow, the wind on Friday notwithstanding, and I’ll be back with a refined snowfall guess for Monday morning in my next regularly scheduled weather narrative on Sunday afternoon.

More snow and cold on the way

Sunday, January 7, 2024

Temperatures are approaching twenty degrees under partly sunny skies in Steamboat Springs early this Sunday afternoon after over thirty inches of snow fell near the top of the Steamboat Ski Resort between Friday and Saturday afternoons. The unsettled weather pattern that brought this snow looks to continue through at least next weekend with frequent chances for snow and cold.

A sharp ridge of high pressure currently extends from Alaska to the North Pole while a deep and cold trough of low pressure just downstream spans from the North Pole across Canada and most of the U.S. A storm that was over the Pacific Northwest yesterday is forecast to enlarge and travel south into the Great Basin before moving over the Four Corners tonight. Due to the southern track of the storm, the best snows will be limited to our southern neighbors, but snow showers will be possible this afternoon and evening as they move overhead from the southwest.

But the storm is forecast to form an eddy that will turn our winds to be from the east tonight, and an easterly wind usually dooms our precipitation as the air mass dries as it downslopes off the Park Range. Forecast snow amounts are currently unimpressive with 1-4” possible by the Monday morning report.

As the eddy moves to the east, our winds turn to be from the north around Monday afternoon which keeps the cold air over our area. Snow showers leaving minor accumulations should restart with high temperatures in town relegated to around twenty degrees, almost ten degrees below our average of 29 F.

Meanwhile, a storm currently located over the Aleutian Islands is forecast to eject a couple of waves of energy and moisture on Monday that will undercut the ridge of high pressure. These waves are forecast to eventually move over the entrenched arctic air mass in our area on Wednesday and Thursday and bring the chances for moderate to even heavy snowfall along with stout winds first from the northwest and then the west.

But winds from the northwest are the most favorable for Steamboat as the air is lifted up the slopes of the Park Range. So expect snow showers to become moderate to even heavy at times as each wave approaches the area and moves overhead, with 4-8” forecast for both Wednesday and Thursday mornings at mid mountain. And while westerly winds also create beneficial upslope up the Park Range, the ski area faces mostly west and is more exposed to those winds.

Weather forecast models are struggling with the position of the arctic air mass to our north after midweek. It is not yet clear how cold and snowy the weekend will be, but it does look like there will be at least some snow and cold, maybe a lot. So be sure to check back to my next regularly scheduled weather narrative on Thursday afternoon where I’ll have more details on the weather for the weekend.

Snowy weekend ahead

Thursday, January 4, 2024

Temperatures are right around freezing with light snowfall in Steamboat Springs this Thursday mid afternoon. The current snow showers mark the start of a prolonged period of unsettled weather and increasing cold that will continue through the weekend and next week.

An area of low pressure is currently centered over the southern Rockies while the upstream Pacific jet stream is rippling with storms either developing or soon to develop. After an inch of snow fell this afternoon at the Steamboat Ski Resort, snow showers will continue on Friday and into Saturday morning as a weak but cold storm moves overhead late in the day. Thanks to winds from our favorable northwest direction, the cool, moist and unstable atmosphere should produce around 4-8” by the Saturday morning mid mountain report, with snowfall picking up Friday afternoon and continuing into Saturday morning.

High temperatures in town will fall to the mid twenties on Friday and the low twenties on Saturday, which is about five degrees below our average of 28 F. But low temperatures will be tempered by the insulating effects of cloud cover, and will likely be around or even several degrees warmer than our average of 4 F. And on the hill, mountaintop high temperatures will only reach around ten degrees on Friday and several degrees colder than that for both weekend days.

Snowfall should end for a time later Saturday before picking up again on Sunday as a stronger and colder storm approaches our area. Though the storm will be stronger, the track will be much further south and less favorable for our area as it moves across Las Vegas on Sunday and eventually New Mexico on Monday. The snow showers should be of fairly light intensity and continue through Sunday night, leaving 2-5” of accumulation on the Monday morning ski report.

Meanwhile, a large storm fueled by cold air from eastern Siberia and subtropical moisture is forecast to form over the Aleutian Islands on Sunday. The southerly flow ahead of the storm is forecast to form a large ridge of high pressure over and north of Alaska even as some of the storm undercuts this ridge and travels across the Gulf of Alaska early in the work week.

As you might expect, weather forecast models are still changing for next week, but cold arctic air sourced from near the North Pole and directed southward along the east side of the Alaskan ridge may combine with a piece of that Aleutian storm for a more significant storm around midweek, with lots more snow in continued cold temperatures behind it. So enjoy what will be our first snow since the spectacular Christmas storm, and be sure to check back for my next regularly scheduled weather narrative on Sunday afternoon where I’ll have more details about the upcoming cold and snowy week.

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11 April 2018

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