Cloudy skies help raise Steamboat Springs temperatures

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— At 5:55 a.m. Friday, the National Weather Service station in Steamboat Springs registered a balmy 31 degrees.

For a January that has been one of the coldest on record — the average temperature for the month as of Friday is 6.7 degrees — the next week looks to be a welcome break from frigid subzero temperatures. The forecast through Sunday calls for highs above freezing with lows in the teens.

Clear skies and a persistent inversion layer — where the typical temperature gradient is inverted so that colder air is closer to the surface of the earth — kept the Yampa Valley colder than the mountains surrounding it.

Snow cover cooling the air around it contributes to the creation of an inversion, according to Steamboat-based meteorologist Mike Weissbluth. Although that effect occurs at all elevations, Weissbluth wrote in an email, the colder, denser air slips down into valleys and collects there. Geographic features preventing the cold air from moving on, the low angle of the sun during the day and the reflective surface of the snow reinforce the inversion, he wrote. An incoming cold front physically can mix the warmer air at higher elevations with the cold air trapped in the valley.

Much of the nation has seen extremely cold temperatures this January, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has made an animation of the below-freezing temperatures caused by a drop in the jet stream during the past weekend.

While the inversion layer now occupying the Yampa Valley might not be mixed out completely, National Weather Service meteorologist Chris Cuoco said, the cloud cover has acted as a blanket, warming the valley and preventing the cold air from re-establishing itself.

Cloud cover is in Steamboat's forecast for the next week, Cuoco said. But there are no guarantees.

"All it needs is one clear or partially clear night to get cold again," Cuoco said.

If cloud cover persists, it could be until late next week that the Yampa Valley sees below-zero temperatures.

Higher temperatures could mean rain for Saturday and Sunday.

“There will likely be rain near the mountain base and perhaps up to Christie Peak. It should be cold enough for snow higher, and we'll probably see 3 to 6 inches of heavy and wet snow by Sunday morning,” Weissbluth wrote in an email Friday afternoon.

Weissbluth also wrote that the current forecast shows heavy snow likely for Monday. The tail end of the system could drop snow as late into the week as Wednesday.

But more moisture moving into the area Thursday and Friday could bring snow to Steamboat through next Saturday, Weissbluth wrote.

“Currently, the snowfall totals for the week ending next Saturday are likely to be very impressive,” he wrote.

NOAA cold air visulization

To reach Michael Schrantz, call 970-871-4206 or email mschrantz@SteamboatToday.com

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