Discovering Steamboat: Taking in the season’s 1st snowstorm
October 5, 2013
Steamboat Springs — The focus of this week's column shifted suddenly after I woke up early Friday to discover more than 7 inches of fresh snow covering every inch of the landscape. I had listened to the forecasts the night before and been warned that snow comes early in Steamboat Springs, but it was still a surprise to see so much snow in early October.
Although I've been to Steamboat many times in the winter for ski trips, Friday's snowfall was my first as an official Steamboat resident. I marked the milestone by stepping outside on my back deck and embracing the experience. The sun was just coming up, and my snow-covered neighborhood was silent, the snow muffling every sound. The bright oranges and yellows of the changing fall leaves peeked out from under their new cover of stark, white snow, and the crisp, chilled air was bracing.
An aspen tree, with its branches burdened by snow, drooped low near our back door, creating a canopy that my curious cat could not resist running back and forth under. It took only seconds before he darted back inside to peer out at the white world from his warm perch by the window.
I waited to hear about school closings and road closures that an 8-plus-inch snowfall would have signaled in Missouri before realizing that this type of weather was routine in Steamboat and other mountain towns. From what I've been told, school was canceled on only a few days for as long as anyone can remember, and those closures were due to extremely cold temperatures, not snow.
After arriving at work, I decided to contact someone I'd been wanting to get to know ever since I began reading weather stories in the Steamboat Pilot & Today several months ago. Art Judson is an expert on weather and is someone reporters turn to frequently when they are wanting information on anything weather related. Art has been serving as a local weather observer since he moved to Steamboat for good in 1993.
Art graciously accepted my telephone call and politely answered my naive snow questions. I assumed snow Oct. 4 was early for Steamboat, but Art corrected me gently. He said he remembered the time in 1993 when it snowed all day here on the Fourth of July. "We had 8 inches of new snow at Burgess Creek," Art said.
"How did you become Steamboat's weather expert?" I asked Art.
"It all started when I was a snow ranger at Berthoud Pass in 1960, and I've been a weather observer ever since."
Art, who is known to most by his nickname, Jud, also told me a little bit about his experience at the Rocky Mountain Experiment Station in Fort Collins where he served as a member of the U.S. Forest Service Avalanche Research Project — a position he held from 1962 through 1985.
"I did avalanche forecasting and monitoring," Art said. He also founded the Forest Service Avalanche Warning Center, which later was renamed the Colorado Avalanche Information Center.
"After I retired and moved here permanently in 1993, I started measuring all the time. I guess it's been in my blood."
When I asked Art whether Friday's snowfall was typical for Steamboat, he offered to do a little historical research. And by a little after 5 p.m. the same day, I had my answer in the form of an email full of detailed snowfall data.
As it turns out, my first snow in Steamboat is a record setter.
According to Art, Friday's snowfall and depth were the greatest on record for so early in the season. The previous greatest amount of new snow for this date was 4.5 inches in 1914, and the greatest prior depth on the ground for the date was just 2 inches. The greatest 24-hour snowfall in any October was 12 inches Oct. 28, 1918, and the all-time maximum depth on the ground in October was 19 inches Oct. 20, 1908. Art said his information came from National Weather Service records at the Desert Research Institute in Reno, Nev.
To help me understand just how much it can snow in Steamboat, Art shared that on March 2, 1929, the town of Steamboat experienced its greatest 24-hour snowfall with an accumulation of 30 inches. The greatest snow depth on record occurred Jan. 12, 1997, when 61 inches of snow was measured.
And to put it all in perspective, Art quoted information from "The Snow Booklet: A Guide to the Science, Climatology and Measurement of the Snow in the United States," a book he co-authored with Nolan J. Doesken that is now out of print. According to the guide, the maximum 24-hour snowfall in the U.S. was an astonishing 75.8 inches recorded at Silver Lake west of Boulder.
I loved Art's willingness to share his expertise with me, and I look forward to more weather-related conversations in the future.
Snow in October is new to me, but it doesn't scare me off from this gorgeous mountain community. I find it exhilarating and beautiful, and it reminds me that ski season is just around the corner.
I invite readers to help me discover more about Steamboat and Routt County by suggesting places you'd like me to visit, people you want me to meet or activities you'd like me to try. You can reach me at lschlichtman@SteamboatToday.com or 970-871-4221.