Winter losing its grip?

Chances for ski area snow record are diminishing

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— After a winter that produced unrelenting powder days in December and January, the sudden shift to spring temperatures and cloudless skies during the past week may have shrunk the chances for a record snow total at the Steamboat Ski Area.

It's not out of the question -- not by a long ways -- but Mount Werner would have to pile up 90 inches of additional snow in the next 35 days.

Veteran snow watcher Art Judson put it in perspective.

"Only small amounts are forecast through March 11, so it's a fair bet that the bulk of the snowfall here is over," Judson said. "Once the snowpack loses its strength at this time of year, it's pretty much done, particularly with such warm temperatures forecast.

"We could still have a major pattern change, but each day we go now, it's less likely a pattern switch will make much difference in town. That's probably good up to 8,000 feet."

Steamboat Ski Area was reporting cumulative mid-mountain snow totals for the season of 358 inches as of Sat--urday. That leaves Steamboat 7.5 feet shy of the record 447.75 inches set in the winter of 1996-97.

However, the National Weather Service in Grand Junction is calling for a 60 percent chance of snow in Steamboat Springs on Tuesday. Snow will remain in the forecast through Saturday.

If Steamboat were to set a new snowfall standard, skiers and riders would have to endure seven more big powder dumps in just more than a month.

One mark Steamboat is sure to pass is the average snowfall total. Mount Werner has already surpassed the average annual snowfall total of 332 inches. Also in the rearview mirror is the 10-year average of 339 inches.

Look at snow from another standpoint and valley temperatures in the mid-50s didn't dent the above-average snowpack in the mountains surrounding Steamboat.

Buffalo Park, on the east side of Rabbit Ears Pass, is a good example. The snowpack there (actually a reflection of the water stored in the snow), ranked higher than 150 percent of average in mid-January. As of Sunday, the number was 134 percent of average. That was the highest percentile among 18 measuring stations in the combined Yampa and White river basins. Basin wide, the snowpack is 114 percent of average. The actual snow depth on Buffalo Pass, northeast of Steamboat is deeper than in Buffalo Park, but the percent of average is 118.

At Buffalo Pass, above 10,000 feet, snow depth declined steadily during the past week, but there's evidence it wasn't because of melting. On Friday, snow depth dropped by 2.7 inches. On Saturday, it dropped by nearly 2 inches.

At the same time, in the absence of precipitation on those two days, snow water content did not decline. That's a sign the snow on the ground settled, but did not melt at that high elevation.

And of course, when it comes to snowfall in Routt County, never say never.

"Remember the July 4 snow back in 1993?" Judson asked. "There was no accumulation here (at his weather station on Anglers Drive), but eight inches fell at Burgess Creek" chairlift.

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