Steamboat Springs If you think the weather this winter is too cold, strap on a pair of cross-country skis or snowshoes and move higher up the mountain.
That's the advice of National Weather Service spotter Art Judson. He frequently parks his vehicle near Dry Lake Campground on Buffalo Pass Road and skis to a ridge where he knows the morning temperatures are always higher than at his home on Anglers Drive.
"Some mornings, honestly, it's 20 degrees warmer on the little ridge overlooking Soda Creek," Judson said. "And that's not a guess. The Forest Service has a weather site up there and I check the temperature on the Internet. It's updated every hour."
Steamboat Springs has had a cold winter compared to most, according to the National Weather Service in Grand Junction, but not because the morning lows have been way below zero. Instead, it's because both the average daily highs and average low temperatures have been lower than the 30-year average.
Winter set in for good in November, when daily highs taken west of downtown averaged 30.6 degrees fahrenheit. That compares to the 30-year average for November of 41.7 degrees, National Weather Service forecaster Jerry Smith said. He said the average daily low in November 2000 of 3.8 degrees was substantially lower than the 30-year average of 14.8 degrees.
The cold spell continued in December, when the average low was 0.9 degrees compared to the 30-year average of 4.1 degrees. The average December day in Steamboat gets up to 29.7 degrees, but last month, the average high was just 26.5 degrees.
The official National Weather Service spotter in Steamboat asks that her identity be kept confidential because as a volunteer, she just can't handle the telephone inquiries she would get if people knew how to reach her.
However, she said the warmest day in December was Dec. 16, when the temperature hit 44 degrees.
Local weather spotter Art Judson said the strong inversion layer that has prevailed in the Yampa Valley this winter is keeping the afternoon temperatures on the valley floor from warming up. Go up the mountainside about 1,000 feet, Judson said, and you'll find warmer temperatures. One of his favorite spots is Dry Lake Campground on Buffalo Pass. Compared to the valley floor at 6,900 feet in elevation, Dry Lake Campground is at 7,968 feet. If you'd like to see hourly updates of the temperature at Dry lake Campground, and compare them to the thermometer on your home, log onto the Internet and go to: http://raws.boi.n...
"That day really sticks out because it was about 10 degrees warmer than any other day in December," she said. Except for a couple of mornings when the recorded low was in the 20s, most December mornings saw a low temperature of 10 degrees or lower.
Average temperatures for January aren't available yet, but the 30-year average high is 28.4 degrees. Through Jan. 16, only two daily highs have exceeded 28.4 degrees. Those were Jan. 11, when the thermometer rose to 30 degrees, and Jan. 13, when it was a balmy 44 degrees during a snowstorm here.
At the other end of the spectrum, Jan. 8 saw the lowest temperature of the month at 13 below zero.
The official Weather Service spotter said in her mind, what has been unusual about January thus far is the absence of any warming trend at all.
"Usually we have just a couple weeks of cold and then it's more decent," she said. "That hasn't happened. We haven't even come close."
The lowest high temperature for Steamboat in January was 11 degrees on Jan. 18, she added.
Jack Ladish, who manages the physical plant for Yampa Valley Medical Center, said his natural gas bill at the hospital was up 30 percent in December, but that was due more to increases in natural gas prices than to the weather.
"We are running the boilers harder for longer periods of time," Ladish said.
Snow has also been scarce in Steamboat in January.
The official measuring station on the west side had recorded 6.1 inches of snow as of Jan. 19. Closer to the mountain, Judson had recorded 8.6 inches.
The lowest January snow total recorded for Steamboat since 1951 was 7 inches, recorded in 1986.
However, several inches of fresh snow on Jan. 20 assured Steamboat's snowfall for the month will not set a new standard for futility.
Smith said he doesn't see a big change in Steamboat's weather pattern over the next few days. A northwesterly flow over northwest Colorado could bring snow showers, but the next low pressure system nearing the coast of California looks like it will head south and track through Arizona, just like the last big storm.