Steamboat's forecast calls for as much as 14 inches of snow by Tuesday morning

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— The first substantial snowflakes began to fall from the sky over Steamboat Springs on Thursday afternoon, but the net effect of several systems moving through the region could take nearly five days to unfold. The good news? There's now the potential for more than a foot of new snow on the slopes of Mount Werner.

Colorado-based meteorologist Joel Gratz, of www.opensnow.com, was cautiously optimistic about Steamboat's snow forecast Thursday afternoon, predicting Steamboat Ski Area could see 14 inches of snow by Tuesday morning, with accumulation coming in increments of 1 to 2 inches or 2 to 4 inches in 12-hour cycles.

"Saturday night could be the sleeper with more snow than I'm forecasting for central and northern Colorado, but I'm still not buying it, totally," Gratz wrote in a post on his site. "More importantly, Tuesday and Wednesday could turn out to be fantastic days for areas from Aspen north to I-70 and Steamboat."

“Storm number one will bring snow to the northern half of Colorado from Thursday afternoon through about midnight,” Gratz wrote. “Expect snow totals to be about 2 to 4 inches north of I-70."

Looking specifically at Steamboat, Gratz called for 1 to 2 inches of snow before nightfall Thursday night followed by 2 to 4 inches overnight. He called a timeout for snowfall Friday.

The second storm in a wave of moisture flowing off the Pacific Ocean could arrive here Friday night, but Gratz doesn’t expect more than an inch on Mount Werner. Saturday could be the wild card with a chance of rain mixed with snow in the valley.

The National Weather Service in Grand Junction rated the chance of snow Thursday night at 60 percent and called for a 40 percent chance of rain mixed with snow in the valley during the day and overnight Saturday.

The most difficult phase of this multi-day pattern is storm No. 3, Gratz wrote. It is expected to cut away from the main west-to-east flow of weather, but he was holding out hope for significant snowfall Tuesday and Wednesday.

Gratz expects Colorado to return to sunny and drier weather by the end of next week, and that pattern will carry into early February.

Gratz added that at this point in the winter, Colorado would need an extended period of significant snow and perhaps a blast of heavy wet snow in the high country this spring if it is to recover from last summer’s drought.

“The latest drought analysis shows that Colorado needs three to six liquid inches or more of precipitation to get close to breaking the drought,” Gratz wrote. “This equates to about 4-8 feet of snow. This won't be easy to pull off in the short term, but it's possible especially if we get into a three- to four-week snowy pattern and/or we get a monster spring storm.”

The Natural Resources Conservation Service reports that the moisture in the snowpack in the combined Yampa and White river basins as of Thursday stood at 65 percent of normal.

To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205 or email tross@SteamboatToday.com

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