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Steamboat Springs Skiers and riders were surfing the white wave Tuesday morning at Steamboat Ski Area after a highly touted snowstorm delivered more powder than even weather experts anticipated.
Steamboat Ski Area was reporting at 5 a.m. that 24 inches had fallen at midmountain in the preceding 24 hours with 16 inches of that falling after the lifts closed Monday afternoon. The zone forecast for the Park Range from the National Weather Service in Grand Junction was calling for 4 to 8 inches overnight as of about 4 p.m. Monday.
So what went right?
Steamboat-based meteorologist Mike Weissbluth had time before heading to the gondola and wrote in an email that satellite imagery from Monday night suggested Mount Werner was in a localized plume of convection that caused heavy and persistent snow showers. He added that convective showers are difficult to predict.
“The convective events can occur when warm and moist air from the south is lifted over colder air in the north,” Weissbluth said. “This lifting destabilizes the air and leads to upward motion, which then releases the precipitation.”
Interestingly, the ski area’s morning snow report reflected that just 9 inches of snow had accumulated at the summit, which can be a sign that high winds above 9,500 feet rearranged the accumulated snow.
Weissbluth said powder enthusiasts who could not take advantage of Tuesday’s conditions at the ski area haven’t missed out entirely.
Another way Steamboat realizes heavy snowfalls is through the phenomenon known as orographic lift: rising air caused when a storm front hits rising terrain.
He expected the cold, northwest flow to deliver another blast of snow beginning late in the day Tuesday delivering another 4 to 8 inches by Wednesday morning, when the air mass will begin to stabilize.
“Normally, a stabilizing atmosphere decreases snowfall since upward (orographic) motion is reduced, but in this case, increasing wind speeds will overcome this and continue to create moderate to heavy snowfall during the day Wednesday and Wednesday night,” Weissbluth wrote.
How much could the ski area see Wednesday?
“This much windier environment will likely drop another 8 to 16 inches by Thursday morning,” Weissbluth wrote.
If there’s a downside, it’s that the National Weather Service is calling for wind gusts of 15 to 25 miles per hour in the mountains.