Steamboat's Storm Peak could see 2 feet of snow

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— With nearly 2 feet of snow expected to fall at timber line, Colorado Avalanche Information Center has issued an avalanche warning through Wednesday for the northern mountains including the Steamboat zone.

Avalanche forecaster Brian Lazar wrote Tuesday that the warning is based on the expectation that heavy snow from the storm that began gently Tuesday afternoon would fall on large hoar frost crystals that have formed on the surface of the snowpack in the backcountry during recent cold, clear nights.

An automated forecast by the National Weather Service for Storm Peak at the top of Steamboat Ski Area expects between 15 and 23 inches to fall overnight and during the day Wednesday.

“Avalanche danger will rapidly increase following the same pattern as the snowfall,” Lazar wrote. “Backcountry travel in or below avalanche terrain is not recommended.”

He added that the warning applies to all aspects of the compass above or near tree line.

A skier who visited Buffalo Pass this week observed and photographed the surface crystals about which Lazar wrote.

Steamboat-based avalanche expert Art Judson said the crystals can create unstable conditions in the midst of the snowpack.

“That would be surface hoar, and it forms weak layers that avalanches run on,” Judson said.

The Weather Service has issued a winter storm warning that includes Routt County through 6 p.m. Wednesday. It rated the chance of snow in downtown Steamboat at 90 percent Tuesday night and through the day Wednesday with accumulations of 7 to 13 inches during time that time frame.

To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205, email tross@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @ThomasSRoss1

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