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First storm of 2020 in progress

Wednesday, January 1, 2020

The snow has started on New Years Day 2020 in Steamboat Springs as snowfall rates as high as an inch per hour were observed mid-morning. The storm looks to deliver as promised, or even over-achieve, with 8-16” of light and fluffy powder expected by the Thursday morning mid-mountain ski report and an additional 3-6” by Friday morning, leaving a storm total of almost one to two feet. While the snowfall from this storm will end on Friday, with even some sun possible for Saturday morning, cool and unsettled weather with at least light snow showers will be over our area from later Saturday though Tuesday morning. A bit of a break is advertised from later Tuesday into Wednesday ahead of our next possible storm for later in the work week.

Three inches are shown on the powdercam as of 10:30 am this Wednesday, and though the snowfall has currently waned, it should pick up again later this morning for several hours. And after another decrease in intensity for the early afternoon, moderate to heavy snow showers should occur late in the afternoon and continue through most of the night. Snowfall rates of one to two inches per hour along with some wind will make travel quite difficult at times, especially at pass level, but even in town.

Though the heaviest snowfall will be over by around report time on Thursday morning, an additional 3-6” of light and fluffy powder is expected by the Friday morning report as showers continue, with shower intensity greatest from mid-afternoon through mid-evening on Thursday, and daytime temperatures hovering around 5 F at the top of Mt. Werner.

Light snow showers are forecast to hang on through Friday morning, with minimal additional accumulations expected.

Dry air briefly works into our area on Saturday, with at least some sun in the morning, as a ridge of high pressure traverses the Rocky Mountains. But waves of Pacific energy and moisture in generally favorable northwest flow will restart light snow showers as early as Saturday night. We may see some sun again on Sunday morning, but showers are expected from later Sunday through Tuesday morning.

As is often the case in fast and energetic flow off the Pacific, the timing, track and strength of waves of energy and moisture are difficult to forecast too far in advance, and weather forecast model disagreement emerges by later Sunday as the European ECMWF is more optimistic with a storm around then. My next weather narrative on Sunday should offer some clarity on the the eventual strength of this storm.

In any case, there is agreement that the snows will stop for most of Tuesday and Wednesday before a healthy but quick-moving storm is advertised for around the end of the work week, followed by a longer lasting storm around the weekend that may persist into the following work week.

Continued cold ahead of promising New Years Day storm

Sunday, December 29, 2019

The cold temperatures in Steamboat Springs continue this Sunday afternoon, with a high temperature of -2 F at the summit already observed at 12:40 pm and the current 14 F in town likely at our high for the day. Lingering snow showers will end today, though the cold will stick around ahead of a promising storm that begins on New Years Day.

Currently, our early weekend storm has moved into Minnesota and strengthened, and the cold northerly flow on the backside of the storm is keeping our temperatures cold, with the 14 F in town twelve degrees below our average of 26 F. The light and barely-accumulating snow showers seen today will end by midnight as we are between the storm in Minnesota and another one currently dropping southward along the West Coast that will not affect our area.

There will be some clearing of the clouds overnight and through Monday, and this is important to the low temperature forecasts for town as any clouds insulate the surface of the earth like a blanket. Though it will be cold in town tomorrow morning, with temperatures at least five degrees below our average of 3 F, clearing skies would allow temperatures in town to fall to ten or even fifteen degrees below average.

There should be more sun for Monday, in spite of the possibility of high clouds, and though mountain temperatures will warm by five degrees or so from Sunday, they will remain cold as the cold northerly or northwesterly flow persists.

Drier air invades our area later Monday, and the fresh snow cover, light winds and clear skies will allow the valley temperatures to plummet into the negative teens for Tuesday morning. This will create a temperature inversion, where temperatures increase with elevation. While the mountain temperatures will still start cold near 0 F, they will still be warmer than the temperature at the base.

But along with sunny skies on Tuesday, the atmosphere will warm through the afternoon, allowing temperatures to move into the teens both on the hill and in town for a gorgeous mid-winter day.

Clouds increase New Years Eve ahead of a promising storm out of the northwest slated to begin snows over our area during New Years Day. There is a lot to like about this storm; it’s cold, it’s moist and it’s northwest trajectory is favorable for snow over Steamboat. I mentioned to some of the nice ticket-checking folks at the base of the gondola building yesterday that the storm looks too good to be true, but if it evolves as currently predicted, light snow early on Wednesday should turn moderate to heavy by the afternoon and continue overnight as first a cold front passes through and is then followed by orographic, or terrain-driven, snows.

Though there are some indications in the weather forecast models of the storm undergoing a minor split as it passes over our area, 6-12” of light and fluffy snow could be reported on the Thursday morning mid-mountain report, with light to sometimes moderate snow showers continuing through the day and into Friday morning leaving another 3-6” by the Friday morning report.

Another wave in northwest flow will keep snow showers going during the day Friday and into Saturday morning, though the atmosphere warms and stabilizes and limits the accumulations.

There is forecast uncertainty with respect to a ridge of high pressure that may briefly build over our area for part of the weekend, though weather forecast models agree on another northwesterly storm by later in the weekend or early the next week.

As an administrative note, while I normally publish these weather narratives on Sunday and Thursday afternoons, I do adjust this schedule based upon storms, so there may be a Wednesday afternoon discussion.

Much colder with light snow likely for the weekend

Thursday, December 26, 2019

Behind the modest Christmas Day storm in Steamboat Springs yesterday, a mix of sun and intermittent snow showers will continue today before we see more sun for Friday morning. But a much colder air mass is forecast to settle over our area for the weekend and heading into the new year with snows likely on Saturday that could persist through Monday.

In hindsight, the Christmas Day storm was disappointing to me as there were indications in a couple of models over several cycles that three bands of snow would pass over the Steamboat Springs area; in fact only one passed through mid-morning which did produce a quick two inches of snow. The afternoon band looked threatening for a while, though all we saw were clouds on the upper mountain, with some sun in the South Valley, and the evening band failed to materialize.

Even though my forecast numbers did verify on the lowest end, that the shorter-range models over-predicted the later-day snowfall is troubling from a forecasting perspective. In broad terms, the storm placement to our south never produced the favorable northwest flow for our area, so the forecast was too reliant on the evolving dynamics of the storm in the generally unfavorable flow for our area.

Moving on, another Pacific storm is currently affecting southern California and will move across the Desert Southwest on Friday. Additionally, a separate fast-moving Pacific storm currently near Vancouver has mixed with some very cold air from Alaska and western Canada. From tonight and through the weekend, the Vancouver and Desert Southwest storms will interact in a complex and hard-to-predict fashion over the West. While snow amounts for our area could surprise to the upside or downside, the cold temperatures on Saturday, Sunday and Monday are more certain.

So, some sun Friday morning should give way to increasing clouds as the Desert Southwest storm moves across Arizona. Snow showers should get going Friday night as the first cold front from the Vancouver storm moves through, with 1-3” possible for the Saturday morning report. Temperatures should fall through the day in cold northerly flow, approaching around 0 F by the time the lifts stop turning on Saturday, along with continued light snow showers that would leave another several inches.

Snows will persist overnight and into Sunday morning, leaving 2-5” of powder for the quite cold Sunday morning report. While they may end for a time during the day Sunday, light snow is forecast again from Sunday afternoon through Monday morning, with 1-4” of snow possible for the still-cold Monday morning report.

We should see another cold Tuesday morning, though temperatures should moderate during the day, especially at the higher elevations. There may or may not be snow showers for New Years Eve as a good-looking storm from the Pacific Northwest approaches. This is currently forecast to bring accumulating snows to our area for New Years Day, and I hope to have more clarity on this storm by my next weather narrative on Sunday afternoon.

Forecast snow amounts increase for Christmas

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

A quick note to update my forecast from last Sunday for more snow. Shorter-range models have indicated the possibility of banded snowfall on Christmas Day over Steamboat Springs, which could create snowfall rates as high as 1” per hour at times tomorrow. The banding can occur when the usually broad and diffuse lift associated with an unstable atmosphere within a storm is concentrated along relatively narrow and roughly parallel bands, and can result in localized moderate to heavy precipitation at times.

I still expect the storm to get going this evening, with 1-4” expected by the Christmas Day ski report. But after a break early in the morning after the initial wave of the storm passes through, we should see sometimes moderate to even heavy snowfall at times from mid-morning through the afternoon leaving another 2-5” of snowfall at mid-mountain by the time the lifts stop turning.

While the heaviest snowfall will be over by around midnight on Wednesday, with another 1-4” overnight yielding 3-9” for the Thursday morning report, much lighter snows will continue through the day Thursday with only minor additional accumulations expected.

Drier air briefly works into northern Colorado on Friday before a quick moving Pacific wave mixes with some very cold air from Alaska and western Canada and brings sharply colder temperatures for the weekend. Currently, light snow showers are advertised for at least Saturday and possibly Sunday as well, but I’ll have more details on the weekend’s weather on my regular Thursday afternoon weather narrative.

Warm with increasing clouds ahead of a white Christmas

Sunday, December 22, 2019

Some morning clouds have given way to mostly sunny skies in Steamboat Springs this Sunday around noon, with the current temperature in town one degree above our average high of 27 F and the temperature at the top of the Steamboat Ski Area a balmy 37 F, accompanied by some breezy southwest winds.

The warm temperatures are a result of warm air being carried northeastward ahead of a large storm just off the northern California coast. The storm is expected to split tonight as additional Pacific energy approaches and forces the storm eastward on Monday and Tuesday. The evolution of this storm has varied within and between the weather forecast models over the last several days, making for an uncertain forecast. Right now, Monday looks similar to today, with Tuesday seeing increasingly thick cloud cover ahead of the storm in continued above normal temperatures. Snow showers are currently advertised to break out Tuesday evening, perhaps around midnight, with 1-4” of snow expected for the Christmas morning ski report as a cool front passes through.

Snow showers are expected to persist through Christmas Day into Thursday as additional Pacific energy interacts with the storm. Though generally of light intensity, there is a possibility of better snowfall for a time Wednesday afternoon and overnight as a wave of energy that is forecast to eject out of the storm may or may not pass close to our area. So there could be another 1-4” for the Thursday morning report.

A break in the unsettled weather is likely for later Thursday or Friday that extends through most of the upcoming weekend before significant weather forecast model disagreement appears. The American GFS want to keep the storm moving well to our south with a dry and cool forecast for the beginning of the next work week, while the European ECMWF hangs the storm far enough back to bring light snow chances back to our area. More details should be available by my next weather narrative on Thursday afternoon.

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