A break in the stormy weather on Friday ahead of a modest storm for Saturday

Thursday, January 6, 2022

Temperatures have risen into the mid-thirties in the Steamboat Springs area this Thursday mid-afternoon under cloudy and still-precipitating skies as residents dig out from the long-duration winter storm that started Tuesday night. Snowfall will taper off through the rest of today and tonight before we see some sun on Friday. A modest storm follows on Saturday before the skies clear and the sun returns in earnest for the end of the weekend and the beginning of the work week.

A vortex of very cold air is currently sitting over most of Canada while a weak ridge of high pressure with warm temperatures sits just off the West Coast. Generally, the wind speed of the jet stream is dependent on the temperature difference between the two air masses it separates, and our current storm featured a strong jet stream with winds from the northwest, copious moisture and embedded disturbances.

The strong northwest winds were a key factor in generating the high snowfall totals over our area as moisture-laden air collided with the Park Mountain Range and produced orographic, or terrain-forced precipitation. The Steamboat Ski Resort reported 18” at mid-mountain this morning on top of the 3” reported Wednesday morning, with the upper mountain reporting 20” on top of the 5” yesterday morning.

Additionally, the two SNOTEL remote sensing sites at Tower, near the top of Buffalo Pass north of town, and Rabbit Ears showed very significant increases in the amount of water in our snowpack, with almost seven and three inches of equivalent liquid water respectively reported. Since the snowpack was just above average to start the week, this storm should put our snowpack solidly above average.

The Steamboat mid-mountain powdercam is currently showing about 3” of snow has fallen since the 5 am report, and with precipitation tapering off, 2-4” should be reported on the Friday morning ski report, which would take into account any snow compaction due to settling.

Friday will see a break in the active weather before another storm currently located in the Gulf of Alaska incorporates a chunk of cold western Canadian air as it crosses the Pacific Northwest coast on Friday and moves overhead on Saturday. Snow showers should be going by late Friday night or early Saturday morning, with snowfall intensifying for a time during the day as mountain-top temperatures fall from around 20 F to start the day to low teens to end the day. The speed of the storm and the limited moisture will hamper any big accumulations, but we usually do quite well in storms when the temperatures fall, and I would expect a 4-8” storm total between Friday and Saturday nights.

The coldest temperatures are reserved for Sunday morning behind the storm, with lows around 10 F in town and mid-single digits at the top of Mt. Werner. But temperatures will warm as the sun returns by Sunday afternoon as a building ridge of high pressure over the West Coast moves eastward and towards our area.

More warming and plenty of sun will start the work week as another Pacific storm approaches the West Coast and splits. This may or may not affect our weather later in the work week, but I should know more about that by my next regularly scheduled weather narrative on Sunday afternoon.

Sunny skies and warming temperatures ahead of windy midweek storm

Sunday, January 2, 2022

After a frigid night where the low temperatures observed soon after midnight reached -16 F at the SnowAlarm weather station near the base of the mountain, -13 F at the Bob Adams airport and -11 F near the top of Mt. Werner, bluebird skies and temperatures of 8 F at all elevations are over the Steamboat Springs area this Sunday noon. We should be able to get into the teens today, and the twenties during another sunny day on Monday before clouds overspread our area and winds increase on Tuesday ahead of our next winter storm from Tuesday night through Thursday.

Currently, we are under a transient ridge of high pressure between the departing storm and another one spinning in the Gulf of Alaska. The ridge of high pressure centered over the Dateline is forecast to be undercut early in the work week by both upstream Pacific energy moving eastward and a splitting Gulf of Alaska storm whose northern half moves curiously westward early in the work week.

Ahead of this complicated atmospheric maneuver, a transient ridge of high pressure will move through our area today and Monday, bringing warming temperatures and sunny skies. While we saw low temperatures in the negative teens this morning, we were fortunately spared the coldest forecast temperatures by a cloud deck that moved over our area overnight, insulating the surface and immediately reversing the falling temperatures.

The warming temperatures aloft will strengthen the valley temperature inversion tonight, allowing nighttime lows to fall below zero in town as mountain top temperatures bottom in the positive single digits. So Monday will start warmer, and stay warmer as southwest flow on the backside of the passing ridge of high pressure moves overhead.

While about half of the splitting Gulf of Alaska storm moves oddly westward, the other half is forecast to stretch eastward and combine with the undercutting Pacific flow. The end result is a couple of waves of energy and moisture that will move overhead in our favored northwest flow, with clouds on Tuesday giving way to snow showers by the afternoon and overnight. It does appear that the storm will be windy, with sustained winds of 20-30 mph and gusts to as high as 50 mph during the day Tuesday, but I would expect 2-5” by the Wednesday morning mid-mountain report at the Steamboat Ski Resort.

Temperatures are forecast to warm during the day Wednesday as a shallow ridge of high pressure approaches, but the skies will remain showery and the winds will ramp back up again as another piece of that Gulf of Alaska storm moves toward our area in northwest flow. Some sort of front looks to stall over our area from later Wednesday into Thursday, and if that occurs we could see 2-5” during the day and another 5-10” overnight, for 7-15” on the Thursday morning mid-mountain report, and likely more than that at the top of Mt. Werner.

Snow showers will likely hang on for the rest of Thursday, especially at the higher elevations and taper off by the evening, with another 1-4” of snow possible. It appears there will be a brief break in the snowfall for most of Friday before another wave is forecast to start the weekend, though weather forecast models disagree on the strength and track of that wave.

That disagreement should resolve itself as the work week progresses, so stay tuned to my next regularly scheduled weather narrative on Thursday afternoon where I’ll have a better idea of the snow chances for the weekend.

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.

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.

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9 June 2021

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