Winter makes an encore

Forecast: Snowy days may not let up until St. Patrick's Day

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Winter has returned to the Yampa Valley, and it doesn't appear to be leaving any time soon.

"It looks like we'll continue to see scattered snow showers in the Park, Gore and Flat Tops ranges all the way through next Thursday and Friday," National Weather Service meteorologist Mike Chamberlain said Friday.

Steamboat Ski Area reported 7 1/2 inches of mid-mountain snow in the preceding 24 hours as of 1:30 p.m. Friday. Two more inches were reported at the summit of Mount Werner. However, skiers reported considerably more snow in the gladed tree runs of Priest Creek.

The afternoon temperature at the ski area Friday was 16 degrees.

The snowstorm marked a dramatic weather shift in Steam--boat, where a week ago temperatures had pushed 50 degrees under sunny skies. City streets were dry, and snowmelt dripped from rooftops.

Chamberlain, who works for the National Weather Service's Grand Junction forecast office, said the shift in the weather pattern can be attributed to a "long ridge trough" that migrated away from Steamboat and on to the Great Plains.

"Last week, you were under a ridge of high pressure," Chamb--erlain said. "It shifted to the east, and you've been under a trough that has been evolving over the last few days."

The trough has allowed moisture from the northwest and cold air from the north to permeate the Yampa Valley.

"If this had been December or January, it would have been really frigid," Chamberlain said.

The trough of low pressure that produced winter weather advisories in Northwest Colorado on Friday is expected to move east soon, Chamberlain said. But the chance of precipitation will remain.

"It looks like a dirty ridge will bring some moisture with it Monday and Tuesday," Cham--berlain said. "It will be a northwesterly flow, which is good for snow up in your region."

As soon as that smaller system passes, another large front from the Pacific Northwest is expected to arrive, Chamberlain added.

Friday's snow means spring break skiers will have ample reason to celebrate this weekend. Arriving flights at Yampa Valley Regional Airport were full or close to full Thursday and Friday. More than 2,200 passengers were scheduled to arrive at the airport during those two days. A pair of jets from Texas was late Thursday, and two United Express flights were canceled because of weather in Denver. However, operations at YVRA were largely back on track Friday in spite of the snowstorm.

The Steamboat Springs Chamber Resort Association predicted that 13,800 visitors would spend tonight in Steamboat. Tourism was expected to remain strong through the week, with 13,300 people visiting Wednesday. That number is 4,200 greater than the number of people who stayed here on the corresponding Wednesday in 2005.

-- To reach Tom Ross, call 871-4205

or e-mail tross@steamboatpilot.com

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