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Shocking turn in conditions

Sunday, February 9, 2014

It seems I’ve been better at predicting snow amounts than snow quality these last 3 days! Yesterday and the day before most of where I skied was very wind-affected and inconsistent. We received similar snow amounts today as compared to those days, and I guessed the conditions would be similar, but the wind did not do the damage today that it did in the previous two days.

And in the case of the Sundown lifline, the wind burnished the powder into a soft and creamy surface that was a joy to ski. It seemed like lots of people had given up on the skiing today as there were fresh lines in all of the usual places, like Shadows, Lower Shadows, Twilight and the Rolex trees.  Not waist-deep snow by any means, but a soft pliable surface that was bouncy and easy to spread. Even the heavier but still untracked snow over in the Why Not trees of the lower mountain skied great.

Today was, by far, the the best day of this storm cycle and it’s still snowing as the penultimate wave moves by. With some cool air moving in for tomorrow, I have high hopes that tomorrow will be even better, my current guesses about snow quality for this storm cycle notwithstanding!

Best snow still expected tonight into tomorrow

Temperatures have warmed as forecast, and I had 3” of wet and heavy snow on my deck this morning, though most of that fell last evening before midnight. The Steamboat ski area reported 7” mid / 6” top at 5am, with 4” of that coming yesterday. As of 11am, only an additional 1” was reported at mid mountain, though some sort of light precipitation is still falling on the hill.

As I mentioned in the last forecast blog, I still don’t expect better quality snow until tonight when the atmosphere finally sees some cooling ahead of a well defined wave that passes over the area on Monday. There is not a lot of cool air associated with this wave, and temperatures are again expected to oscillate around the its arrival, but I would expect 4-8” to be reported by Monday morning with an additional 4-8” by Tuesday morning, with most of that occurring during the day Monday.

Snow looks to mostly end by Tuesday morning, though light showers may reoccur on the hill by the afternoon. Temperatures will warm again on Wednesday in advance of another possible long-duration event beginning later in the day. As in the last storm cycle, this event is forced by a warm and moist polar jet heavily modified by subtropical moisture and warmth. I would expect similar results to this storm, with Thursday and Friday being warm and windy with snow before some cooling occurs later Friday or early Saturday. Snows look to continue through most of Saturday before a quick moving ridge warms temperatures further by the end of the weekend.

Weather then turns dry for a few days before there is general model agreement of a storm for around midweek.

Warm and windy with significant snows likely holding off till Sunday night

Saturday, February 8, 2014

The Steamboat ski area reported 3” mid and 3.5” top at the 11am update, and I see light snow on the upper mountain looking out my window. This weather pattern continues to make the forecast difficult for Steamboat as atmospheric temperatures are expected to stay mostly static or slightly warm until Sunday evening when some cool air finally works into the area. I’m inclined to dismiss what I consider the wildly optimistic Denver forecast of 22-36” by Sunday night for the Gore range and side closer to the saner 16-20” forecast for the Park range by Monday afternoon from the Grand Junction office.

We will get some snow in this pattern, but it will be heavy and wind-affected. And if valley temperatures rise much further, which they are forecast to do, we may even see the ‘R’ word (rain) down here by tomorrow. Since about 3” has already been reported, I would expect 4-8” to be reported by tomorrow morning. While light snow will continue during the day Sunday on the mountain, moderate to heavy snow will likely accompany the front bringing the cooler air into the region Sunday evening.

Snows will continue Monday and taper off by Tuesday morning. I would expect 6-12” by Monday morning, with an additional 3-6” reported by Tuesday morning.

Temperature will warm again by Tuesday afternoon ahead of the next wave currently timed for midweek. There is model disagreement with respect to the strength of this wave so snowfall amounts are uncertain at this time. The moist and relatively warm polar jet is forecast to continue over out area through the workweek and into the weekend keeping warm and unsettled weather over the region.

Lots of soft wind-affected snow

Friday, February 7, 2014

By early this afternoon, winds had impacted both the upper and lower mountains where I skied today. Lifts were running slowly due to the high wind speeds, especially at the top of the mountain where whiteout conditions would briefly appear.

It was clear the open runs were wind-scoured, but I hoped to find some undisturbed snow in the more protected areas. The wind had gotten into the trees and there was drifting which made the skiing a fair bit on the inconsistent side. The snow within the drift was soft and deep, but my skis immediately accelerated when leaving the drift. I found this to be true in Shadows, Sideburn, Twilight trees, Rolex trees and finally Typhoon. The open area just off the Why Not trees skied well, but that is relatively limited vertical.

I expect a fair bit of snow over the next 3 days, but am concerned about the wind, especially tomorrow as it is forecast to stay westerly and increase. This mountain fairs poorly in due westerly flow since a lot of it faces west, so it is difficult to find protected areas. Lift holds and slowdowns are also most common with westerly winds.

Persistent snows through Monday

Thursday, February 6, 2014

The Steamboat ski area reported 1” mid / 2” top early this morning, and the 11am update had an additional 1” mid / 2” top falling between 5am and 11am. We currently have cold air near the surface being overrun by northwest flow contained within a moist and relatively warm branch of the polar jet. Forecast snow amounts will be tricky as two different physical processes compete. Generally, a warming airmass in the mid-levels is not conducive for significant snow accumulations as the warming increases stability and decreases relative humidity. However, this relatively warm airmass is being lifted over the cold air entrenched in the Yampa Valley, and this extra ingredient means light snow accumulations will continue. I might expect a 3-6” report by tomorrow morning.

Continued light snow should occur through Friday before an embedded wave races by to our north Friday night. This will bring some cooling to the atmosphere, increasing snowfall rates through early Saturday before the atmosphere warms again earlier in the day, likely ending snowfall for a very brief period. Snow accumulations may be in the 4-8” range by Saturday morning.

Atmospheric temperatures are then forecast to hold mostly steady through Sunday even as valleys likely warm above freezing on that day. Light snow should redevelop by Saturday afternoon and persist Sunday before another stronger wave passes over the area late Sunday or early Monday. Probably another 3-6” by Sunday morning, and 8-16” spread between the Monday and Tuesday morning reports. The timing of the Sunday night/Monday wave will be refined in later model runs and will determine whether significant snows occur early enough to be included in the Monday morning report.

Snows will likely end for a short time sometime on Tuesday before another embedded wave in the persistent northwest flow will repeat the above pattern midweek.

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