Thursday, January 24, 2008
Steamboat Springs The winter of 2007-08 is continuing to defy predictions, as Steamboat Ski Area officials are reporting historic snowfalls while federal climate experts are sticking to forecasts that the remainder of the season is likely to be milder than normal.
Federal climate experts have said all winter that warm currents in the Pacific Ocean would likely limit Colorado to average precipitation. But the Steamboat Ski Area announced Wednesday that December and January have produced a snow event that has happened only twice before.
"This is the third time in history the resort has had 100 inches of snow in both December (126 inches) and January (105 inches so far)," ski area spokeswoman Heidi Thomsen said.
The other winters when the ski area hit those numbers were in 1981-82, with 113.5 inches and 124 inches; and 1996-97, when the mid-mountain snowfall was 108 inches in December and nearly 120 inches in January.
The winter of 2005-06 narrowly missed back-to-back century marks, with 105 inches in December and 95 in January.
The 10 inches of powder reported at mid-mountain Wednesday brought the season snowfall total to 271 inches. Steamboat could get a break from the snow today, with mostly cloudy skies and a high of 25 degrees.
But a 40 percent chance of snow returns tonight followed by an increased chance of snow Friday.
Yet, at the midway point of a Steamboat winter that has seen snowfall many more days than not, the moisture in the snowpack piling up in the mountains surrounding the upper Yampa Valley is still just close to average or slightly above average.
The water stored in 63.2 inches of snow on the west side of Rabbit Ears Pass on Wednesday was 106 percent of average. On Buffalo pass, there is 103.3 inches of snow, but the water it contains is just 84 percent of average.
"The snowpack in the Gore and Park ranges has (water content) readings from 85 percent to 110 percent of average," Jim Pringle of the National Weather Service in Grand Junction said. "That's interesting considering we expected something close to normal this winter."
In November 2007, Pringle's colleagues at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predicted Northwest Colorado's best chance for snow all winter would be in December, and January likely would be warmer and drier than normal.
"Obviously, that didn't pan out," Pringle said.
Weather observer Art Judson confirmed this week that his weather station midway between downtown Steamboat and the ski mountain has seen snow 16 of the past 17 days and 45 of the past 51.
Steamboat's famously dry snow may provide the answer to the puzzling question of how the accumulated moisture on Buffalo Pass, above 10,000 feet on the Continental Divide, can be below average after back to back months of more than 100 inches of snow.
Pringle said if climate watchers are correct that late winter and spring are apt to see above-average temperatures, the mountains around Steamboat could still get wet snow this winter.
NOAA climate watchers still are sticking to their medium range forecast that calls for a moderate La NiÃ±a effect in the Pacific to produce above-average temperatures and average snowfall amounts for late winter and early spring here.
"It would be higher density snow if we have above-normal temperatures show up," Pringle said.