Steamboat Springs The brown of autumn could soon be replaced by the white of winter - and just in time for the Thanksgiving holiday.
Steamboat Springs could receive between 2 and 5 inches of snow from a storm moving into the region today, said Ellen Heffernan, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Grand Junction. The blast of winter associated with the storm - which should bring the lowest daytime temperatures since last winter - will be a welcome sight to many skiers and riders after a particularly mild fall, though the precipitation could turn to rain Wednesday.
"We have been experiencing some above-normal temperatures (in Northwest Colorado)," Heffernan said Monday. "We are in a persistent dry pattern and a warm pattern, and it does look like it's going to come to an end."
Heffernan predicted it would start snowing sometime this evening over Steamboat, especially at higher elevations, before tapering off Wednesday afternoon in the form of light rain showers.
"This system doesn't look overly moist or strong, so we are not expecting a lot of snow out of it," she said.
Although the snow may dissipate Wednesday, the cold front will remain in place, with temperatures plummeting to single-digit lows through the Thanksgiving holiday.
The cold weather bodes well for snowmaking at Steamboat Ski Area, where Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp. officials announced last week that the opening of the ski area is delayed to Nov. 30 because of persistent warm, dry weather.
"I think (the cold weather) will do a lot for snowmaking as we start going around the clock come Wednesday - but that won't get us open," said Doug Allen, Ski Corp.'s vice president of mountain operations.
"Real cold, dry snow - we need more of that than having a lot of moisture in the snow that packs down real low," he said. "This weather front will certainly be good for snow makers. We are lagging a bit behind where we would normally be this year."
Sgt. Scott Elliott of the Colorado State Patrol urged drivers to practice caution when driving this week and reminded motorists to be prepared mentally for driving changes due to the weather. He also said drivers should stock their cars and trucks with a shovel, ice scraper, cell phone and flashlight.
"The biggest thing to recommend is to slow down and have a lot of following distance," he said. "Don't be coming down those mountain passes way too fast, lose control and go crashing over the side."
Elliott said three people became stranded on Buffalo Pass on Sunday night after their Jeep got stuck in snow. State troopers and Routt County Sheriff's Office deputies found the group early Monday morning unharmed, but Elliott said the incident highlights that motorists need to always be prepared for inclement weather.
"I know the locals know how to drive, but a lot of the Denver folks and tourists are not familiar with winter driving conditions," he said. "They can get into some really tough spots."
Steamboat Springs Public Works Director Jim Weber said that despite a shortage of snowplow drivers, city streets will be safe for the Thanksgiving holiday.
"We will have all available plows out, whenever the event comes through requiring plowing," he said.
More on the way?
Heffernan said another storm system will move through western Colorado on Friday, but the southern portion of the state will receive the bulk of the snowfall.
"And then beyond that we are looking like we are going into another dry period," she said. "There has been a lot of uncertainly with the upcoming forecast for the next week, but it does look like it's going to be predominantly dry."
Although it may be dry, Heffernan noted it will remain cold.
"We don't expect to see these warm temperatures we have been experiencing the last week," she said. "And we don't expect them to come back again."
Meteorologists have had a tough time formulating a long-term forecast for this winter. The National Weather Service previously predicted a good chance of significant early season snowfall in Steamboat because of a developing La NiÃ±a cycle. Heffernan backed off that prediction Monday. However, she said Steamboat could see more snow than many other ski areas in Colorado this winter.
"It looks like we are moving into a more moderate La NiÃ±a," she said. "There is a little bit better chance of a wetter-than-normal January, but dry throughout the rest of the winter.
"But the signature for a La NiÃ±a is highly variable, and it's hard to hang our hats on any particular pattern."