Rare snow drivers converging over Steamboat
December 17, 2012
Steamboat Springs — If the forecast of a rare winter storm comes true this week, Steamboat Ski Area could see an additional 19 to 33 inches of snow in a 48-hour span beginning at dusk Monday and continuing through the day Wednesday.
An unusual confluence of atmospheric conditions that contribute to heavy snowfall was coming together over Northwest Colorado and Steamboat Springs on Monday morning, according to a senior forecaster with the National Weather Service in Grand Junction.
"It's a rare storm that brings all of these factors together," meteorologist Chris Cuoco said.
Among other conditions, Cuoco said, temperatures in the air level between 7,000 and 15,000 feet in the Steamboat area are primed to produce large snowflakes.
"The uplift temperature profile is ideal for growing snowflakes and lots of them," Cuoco added.
Already, the ski area reported it had received 17 inches at mid-mountain in the preceding 48 hours. It was preparing to open the Sundown Express chairlift Tuesday bringing new beginner, intermediate and advanced trails. By the week's end, Sunshine Express in tandem with the South Peak lift is poised to open skiing in Sunshine Bowl.
The National Weather Service in Grand Junction upgraded its forecast for Steamboat late Monday afternoon to call for a 100 percent chance of snow through Tuesday night, tapering to 90 percent during the day Wednesday.
During that time, the valley floor was expected to see 2 to 4 inches of snow Monday night, another 3 to 5 during the day Tuesday and 4 to 8 inches of snow Tuesday night. But above 9,700 feet on Mount Werner, the ski area stood to receive 4 to 8 inches Monday night, 6 to 10 inches of snow during the day Tuesday followed by 7 to 11 inches Tuesday night and finally, for dessert, 2 to 4 inches Wednesday.
Cuoco said Steamboat's recipe for prolonged snow early this week begins with the fact that a trough of low pressure is set to flow over the top of a strong cold front.
"We have an existing cold front, the Polar Front, draped across the Northwestern U.S. and a strong trough will ride over that front and cause the development of another storm," Cuoco said. "That wave becomes a low pressure system all of its own tonight. And we have plenty of moisture streaming in from the Pacific."
Combine ideal temperatures for snowflake growth with strong winds out of the northwest that cause orographic snow — snowfall enhanced when winds run into a terrain feature like the Park Range — and this storm could add up to a noteworthy snowmaker.
Cuoco said the initial northwest flow will begin to shift to the west — ideal for orographic snow on Mount Werner and the Park Range — before slipping to the southwest (ideal for the San Juan Mountains) before returning to a westerly snow.
Meteorologist Joel Gratz, of OpenSnow.com, agreed that Steamboat Ski Area is well situated to take full advantage of the storm that will build into Tuesday.
"Steamboat will be the big winner with almost 2 feet of snow falling in the next two days after almost 2 feet of snow has fallen in the last two days," Gratz said. "Ahead of the storm, heavy snow will continue for Steamboat on Tuesday and will likely pick up for Wolf Creek and the southern San Juans as well on Tuesday afternoon."
A final word to the wise — be good to your snowblowers this week.
To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205 or email tross@SteamboatToday.com