Thursday, February 1, 2018
Colorado will be sandwiched between a ridge of high pressure off the West Coast and a deep and very cold vortex of cold air over Hudson Bay, which will continue tormenting the Midwest and East with cold and snowy weather. The resultant northwesterly flow over the Steamboat Springs area, which will be breezy to windy at the higher elevations, will yield generally light orographic or terrain-driven precipitation for almost the entire upcoming week in a long-duration event, enhanced from time to time by passing waves of energy and moisture.
These waves will travel over the top of the West Coast ridge and possibly mix with some cool air from western Canada, though the coldest air looks to stay to our north and east. We won’t be seeing any snow to liquid water ratios of thirty or forty to one, like the last storm, though snowfall will vary between denser and less dense depending upon how much cool air mixes with the incoming waves. The amount of mixing, along with the timing and strength of each wave are the sources of uncertainty over the next five days.
Snowfall should taper off this afternoon and evening on Mt. Werner behind the current small storm before picking up again Friday in advance of the next wave, timed to pass over Colorado during the day Saturday. The warming temperatures forecast for Friday will put the Yampa Valley near the rain-snow line, but right now it appears there is enough cool air for precipitation to remain as snow even in town, though there may be a mix at times.
Cooler air arrives with the storm after midnight Friday, and snowfall rates should increase for a time through Saturday morning before decreasing again as the wave moves past our area by the afternoon. I would guess 2-5” of snow for the Saturday morning report, with another 2-5” possible during the day and overnight, to be reported Sunday morning.
The light and continuing snowfall should pick a bit for Sunday as another wave in northwesterly flow skirts northern Colorado before ending for a short time Sunday night, leaving another 2-5” for the Monday morning report.
But the coldest and strongest wave follows for Monday, with snow redeveloping as early as Monday morning. Moderate to heavy snow is currently expected for Monday afternoon and night before tapering off on Tuesday, and there may be 6-12” of snow by the Tuesday morning report.
Adding up these snow guesses yields around one to two feet of snow between today and Tuesday before the western ridge pushes inland and ends the storm cycle. Because of the large orographic component, snowfall rates will increase with elevation, so amounts in town will not be nearly as impressive as the snowfall recorded at the top of the Steamboat Ski Area.
Drier weather is advertised to return after Tuesday, though there are an additional couple of waves for Wednesday and the following weekend which may trend stronger or weaker as incoming Pacific energy continues to ride over the top of the building western ridge.
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Sunday, January 28, 2018
Ridges of high pressure are currently located over the Bering Sea and the West Coast. Pacific storms are located upstream and downstream of the Bering Sea ridge, with the downstream storm moving from its current position in the Gulf of Alaska to the Steamboat Springs area by midweek.
Before we move on to the forecast, I’d like to point out that the while the past Friday storm total showed 8” at mid-mountain and 9” up top in the 48 hours preceding the Saturday morning report, the Steamboat Powdercam showed 15” at 8:40 am Friday, which means that 10” of snow fell between 4:40 am and 8:40 am Friday morning on top of the 5” reported that morning. There was also significant settlement of the snow pack; I estimate the snow was compacting at around a half inch per hour, which means snowfall rates were approaching 3”/hour for 4 hours! This Steamboat Magic was due to cold temperatures around 5F (which resulted in light and airy very low density snowflakes), moist northwest flow (which resulted in efficient orographics, or terrain-lifted precipitation, where higher precipitation totals are usually found at higher elevations - I measured two feet up at the top of Mt. Werner, a short hike up from the Morningside lift and 180 feet higher than the Powdercam), a cooling atmosphere, which lead to atmospheric instability, and favorable upward motion associated with the storm.
All of these ingredients came together for a magical snow day Friday.
Back to the forecast, the Gulf of Alaska storm is now moving eastward, and this pushes the West Coast ridge over our area by Tuesday. Any lingering snow showers will end today, and expect warming temperatures and clearing skies for Monday and especially Tuesday.
By Wednesday and Thursday, the Gulf of Alaska storm grazes our area as another ridge pops up off the West Coast in response to Pacific energy further upstream undercutting the Bering Sea ridge. This is unfortunate as it is similar to the pattern that occurred earlier in the winter that kept the cold air and storm track over the eastern two thirds of the country.
The end result is a once promising midweek storm is pushed to our north and east, grazing our area and limiting precipitation to only some light snow showers on Wednesday and possibly Thursday.
Some Pacific energy may travel over the ridge of high pressure off the West Coast and mix with some cold western Canadian air by around the weekend for a chance of stormy weather, though that storm is trending weaker in the weather models as the West Coast ridge trends stronger.
My new favorite cold-weather glove are all about warmth. And when combined with the standard HotHands handwamers which I use below about 5F, I’m good for the day. Three fingers sit together with the index finger separated, but there is enough room to scrunch all your fingers together while on the lift, which is especially nice if you have a handwarmer in the mitten-part of the glove.
Thursday, January 25, 2018
A storm currently crossing the Great Basin will bring snows to the Steamboat Springs area starting around midnight tonight, along with some clouds ahead of the storm for the rest of today. The storm does have some cold air associated with it, though good moisture is lacking. I would expect 2-5” for the Friday morning report, with another 1-4” during the day as snow showers taper off by Friday night.
The wide range in the predicted amounts is because I am unsure of the density of the snowfall. Under warm conditions, a tenth of an inch or so could produce an inch of high-density snow that skis like cream cheese, or as we saw last Monday night into Tuesday morning when the temperature at mountain-top was around 5F, four of five inches of light and fluffy snow that feels like it is barely there.
Nonetheless, a building ridge of high pressure over the West Coast this weekend forces northwest flow over our area behind the storm, and combined with some embedded moisture, will produce clouds for Saturday and light snow showers for Saturday night and Sunday, with some light accumulations possible.
The West Coast ridge will translate over our area by later Monday which should bring clearing skies and warmer higher-elevation temperatures during the day. As is usual for this time of year, any clear nights will allow for cold morning lows in the Yampa Valley as temperature inversions form, with low-elevation temperatures slow to recover during the day.
Meanwhile, a chunk of cold air from western Canada squirts into the Gulf of Alaska behind the eastward moving ridge of high pressure, and becomes the basis of our next storm timed for around Wednesday.
At this point, this storm looks colder and broader than the Friday storm with mountain-top flow more out of the northwest, so we may receive more snow from the storm as compared to tomorrow’s storm. Furthermore, there is trailing energy and moisture that will restart snow showers by Thursday after they end for a time Wednesday night.
Behind the midweek storm, an epic atmospheric battle will then ensue over the northern Pacific as a sharp ridge of high pressure builds over the Bering Sea. This ridge will be under attack from the west by a strong Pacific jet stream and the east by very cold North Polar air moving over western Canada. The interaction of these three moving pieces will determine our weather for next weekend, and likely beyond.
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Sunday, January 21, 2018
The current storm is winding down late this Sunday even as snowfall rates picked up this afternoon for a time as some enhancement moved over our area. Showers will resume tapering off this evening and should end around midnight.
It will be a cold Monday morning, but a sharp ridge of high pressure will quickly pass through our area during the day and bring warming temperatures at the higher elevations and some sun.
Snow showers will begin anew Monday evening and last through the night as a weak storm to our north brushes northern Colorado. Weather models have trended weaker with these showers, though we may still be able to eke out an inch or two by Tuesday morning before the showers end and we see some sun by the afternoon.
Between the weak exiting storm Tuesday and the next larger storm for Friday, a ridge of high pressure builds over the Inter-mountain West and brings significant high-elevation warming and plenty of sun for Wednesday and most of Thursday. Low elevations will be slower to respond to the warming due to the presence of a temperature inversion, where temperature increases with height.
Meanwhile, our Friday storm will be pounding the the northern half of the West Coast midweek as the storm undergoes a modest split. Nonetheless, the southern part of the storm will travel through the Great Basin on Thursday and begin snow showers over our area as soon as Thursday night.
Moist northwest flow which is favorable for Mount Werner will be better established during this storm after the initial cold front passes around Thursday night, and snowfall looks to hang on through Saturday morning before tapering off starting Friday evening.
I fully expect changes to the forecast as we get closer to the event, especially with a splitting storm involved. Hopefully the details are ironed out by my next forecast on Thursday, but right now, I would guess 6-12” of snow is possible between Thursday night and a cold Saturday morning.
Weather models agree another transient ridge of high pressure will bring warming temperatures and sunny skies to our area behind the Friday storm by late in the weekend, until an even larger storm may grace our area around the following midweek.
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Thursday, January 18, 2018
A storm currently off the Pacific Northwest coast will elongate southwards on Friday before moving across the Great Basin on Saturday and Colorado on Sunday. Temperatures at the Steamboat Ski Area will remain above normal for today and Friday, with some high clouds filtering the sun and west to southwest winds becoming breezy by Friday afternoon.
Snow showers may start as early as Saturday morning, though weather models have trended slower and stronger with the storm, so accumulations may hold off until the afternoon. It will be a close call for Steamboat Springs, but it looks to be cold enough for snow at the lower elevations even at the start of the storm. If not, any liquid will quickly turn to snow as cool air moves over northern Colorado by later Saturday.
There may be several inches of snow on the hill by the time lifts stop turning Saturday afternoon, but the best accumulations will be from Saturday afternoon through midday Sunday as temperatures crash to seasonably cold levels overnight Saturday.
This will be a tricky storm for our area as northern Colorado will not see sustained northwest flow behind the storm until it is mostly over. However, the strengthening storm may create some enhanced snows over our area on Sunday as warm and moist air from the plains to our east is lifted over the Rocky Mountains. I would expect 4-8” of snow by the Sunday morning report, with up to another 3-6” during the day if the enhanced snowfall materializes.
Snow showers will taper off from Sunday afternoon through early Monday and may end for a time during the day Monday before picking up again by later Monday as some moist energy in northwest flow brushes by northern Colorado and leaves several inches for the Tuesday morning report.
Weather models advertise warming and drying for midweek, with another possibly strong storm on tap for the end of the work week.