It was treats and not tricks when skiers and snowboarders woke up on Halloween morning to the sound of snowplows rumbling on the street. Steamboat Springs recorded its first measurable snowfall since Sept. 10 on Friday. Employees at the Steamboat Ski Area measured 3 inches at Thunderhead. The ski area's Kent Kirkpatrick observed that the forecast for cold overnight temperatures this weekend might be even more significant than the natural snow.
"The forecast is for highs in the mid-30s and low 40s, and overnight lows from 10 to 15," Kirkpatrick said. "With a forecast like that, our snowmaking crews will be out in force."
The ski area is asking hikers to stay off trails where snowmaking operations are under way this week and in particular, to stay off the banks of snow or "whales" created by the snowmaking guns.
A small blast of winter is practically tradition on Halloween, but it doesn't necessarily translate into a snowy early winter.
Brian Avery, a hydrologist and meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Grand Junction, said Thursday his office lacked some of the strong signs it often relies on for making long-range winter forecasts. Unlike the past five winters, weather in the Rockies is not expected to be influenced by either a strong El NiÃ±o or La NiÃ±a effect in the Pacific Ocean.
"It doesn't really give us anything to latch onto" in making predictions for the winter, Avery said.
The long-range drought forecast published by NOAA includes most of Northwest Colorado in an area of generally improving drought conditions. However, it would be misleading to assume that means above-average precipitation this winter, Avery said. Drought predictions take into account soil and reservoir conditions from last winter.
"Your conditions last winter in the upper Colorado, Yampa and White river drainages were among the best in the state," Avery said. He said the safest prediction for the area around Steamboat Springs is for average snowfall, and that may not be enough to improve the drought situation.
The ski area officially began counting snow Oct. 28 last winter and tallied 16 inches of snow during the month. Another 52 inches fell on the mountain in November.
Last season's total snowfall measured 344 inches at mid-mountain.
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