Steamboat Springs The funny thing about Northwest Colorado is that sometimes it takes a cold front to warm up the weather. We’re still waiting for that cold front.
The bitter cold that has gripped Routt County the past couple of days will grudgingly give way to a gradual warming trend through the middle of next week, but National Weather Service meteorologists said not to expect daytime highs to exceed the upper teens or low 20s until then.
One reason for the extended cold spell, which resulted in temperatures as low as minus 29 degrees in parts of Steamboat Springs on Friday morning, is what meteorologist Joe Ramey described as a surface inversion. In a surface inversion, warmer air in the upper atmosphere acts as a lid to prevent the cool, ground-level air from escaping. Long nights, snowpack and mountains help to intensify such inversions.
“It’s actually an excellent time to ski,” Ramey said Friday from his Grand Junction forecast office. “Get out of the cold valley and up onto the slopes, where it’s warmer.”
Temperature readings from various spots in Routt County affirm Ramey’s recommendation. Steamboat Springs weather observer Art Judson reported temperatures Friday morning of minus 19 degrees in Oak Creek, at Lynx Pass and at Steamboat Lake, minus 24 degrees in Buffalo Park and minus 29 degrees at a Colorado Department of Transportation weather station at U.S. Highway 40 and Mount Werner Road.
But the low temperature at the Storm Peak Laboratory high atop Steamboat Ski Area was only minus 5 degrees. Similarly, a weather station on Rabbit Ears Pass recorded a 7 a.m. Friday temperature of minus 6 degrees, Judson said.
Because of a high-pressure system overhead and the trapped cold air below, Ramey said it would take a new cold front moving into the area to disrupt the inversion and push it out, making way for higher temperatures.
“In Northwest Colorado, it takes a cold front to warm things up,” Ramey quipped.
He doesn’t expect that cold front until the early part of next week. The next chance for snow is Thursday, when forecasters think a strong Pacific storm system will move into the region.
Until then, the best advice for folks is to bundle up and dress in layers, said Christine McKelvie, of Yampa Valley Medical Center. The Steamboat hospital hasn’t seen any cases of weather-related injuries in the past days, but residents and visitors still should take proper precautions when exposing themselves to the elements.
Protecting extremities — particularly fingers, toes and noses — will help protect against frostbite. Wear a hat to prevent body heat from escaping from your head. And be careful with alcohol consumption, if for no other reason than it can numb one’s senses and lead to poor decision making.
McKelvie urged people to stock their vehicles with a sleeping bag and warm clothes in the case of an emergency. Keep your gas tank full during the winter to prolong the amount of time you can take advantage of your car’s heating system should you become stuck or stranded.
The brutal cold can be tough on cars, too. Max Snare, general manager of the NAPA Auto Parts store in Steamboat, said engine block heaters, car batteries, wiper blades and fuel additives are popular purchases this time of year.
Cars that are left outside for extended periods of time during particularly cold spells often are difficult to start. Snare recommends that vehicle owners make sure they have a good, strong car battery and consider buying engine block heaters, which heat the vehicle’s engine to make it easier to start. Many new vehicles come equipped with freeze plugs, but engine block heaters can be installed in vehicles of any age.
Some varieties, Snare said, don’t even require professional installation. He said NAPA sells block heaters that range in price from $18 to $60.