Snow returns to Steamboat’s forecast, but split storm track constantly evolving | SteamboatToday.com

Snow returns to Steamboat’s forecast, but split storm track constantly evolving

Michael Bush, left, Jim Peterson and Mike Munn were among the members of Steamboat's Nordic skiing community who turned out at the Steamboat Ski Touring Center on Wednesday to shovel snow onto spots on trails that have thin coverage. The work was taking place in preparation for the Steamboat Nordic Camp on Saturday and Sunday. The camp will draw 80 people, many of them from out of town, to work with top-level instructors.

— Finally, snow is returning to the forecast for Steamboat Springs’ weekend. The National Weather Service is calling for a 30 percent chance of snow Saturday at Steamboat Ski Area building to 60 percent Saturday night and 70 percent during the day Sunday.

Any sign of snow is welcome after an early December that is off to a slow start.

"We received 1 inch of new snow on Dec. 1," ski area spokeswoman Loryn Kasten said Thursday. "Since then, it has been dry, but the cold night temperatures have helped our snowmaking crews crank out new snow, and the warmer day temperatures have helped us bust through the early season crust." 

Steamboat-based meteorologist Mike Weissbluth said predicting how much snow the storm expected to blow out of the Sierras will bring is tricky because it is expected to split into northern and southern tracks. He thinks Steamboat could get three bouts of snow, with the best chance for meaningful accumulations coming during the day Sunday and resuming during the day Monday. He posts snow forecasts at his SnowAlarm blog.

"Forecasting snow amounts is difficult due to the strongly evolving nature of this storm, but currently I would expect only light snowfall in the 1-4-inch range to be reported Sunday morning," Weissbluth said in an email. "Periods of moderate to sometimes heavy snowfall will likely occur during the day Sunday and overnight, leading to accumulations of 5-10 inches by Monday morning. An additional 1-4 inches will likely fall during the day Monday to be reported Tuesday morning."

Joel Gratz, of http://www.opensnow.com, is less optimistic about how well this storm is organized.

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“I am still forecasting 3-6 inches for most mountains, though I’m concerned that this might be overdone in spots," Gratz wrote Thursday. "As the storm nears Colorado, there should be a nice line of showers pushed along by a cold front on Saturday evening. My concern is that this line of showers will fall apart as a new area of low pressure develops over southeastern Colorado or northeastern New Mexico. So potentially the San Juans and Powderhorn (areas that are further west) would see a quick 2-4 inches on Saturday evening, but other areas could get less snow."

Gratz is concerned that by Sunday, the winds circling the low-pressure system will be coming from the northeast to north, a direction that doesn't favor Colorado's ski areas.

The Weather Service forecast for the valley this weekend is for a mix of rain and snow throughout the period, creating some doubt about how much help this storm will give Howelsen Hill and the Nordic touring centers around the valley floor.

Looking into the future, Weissbluth sees more reasons for hope.

"The progressive forecast moves another splitting storm over our area by midweek," he said. "Again, there will be uncertainty with respect to snowfall amounts, but the storm will likely peak around later Wednesday before exiting the area on Thursday. And the storm train will continue with another similar wave timed for the following weekend."

The question on the minds of the volunteers who showed up at the Steamboat Ski Touring Center on Wednesday to shovel snow onto thin spots along the trail system was, "Are you worried yet?"

In order to gain perspective on the mild and dry December 2014, it's helpful to look back at weather records and, in this case, midmountain snowfall measurements recorded by Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp. in recent winters.

December 2013 was a good one, and early season skiing was true packed powder thanks to 9 inches that fell Dec. 4 and 10 inches that accumulated Dec. 9 and 10. However, last December, with a total of 60.25 inches, still was 7 inches below the all-year average. And the storm pattern didn't intensify until Dec. 20. Just as the holiday ski traffic was starting to build last year, Steamboat recorded 33 inches of fresh snow, or half the monthly total in six days from Dec. 20 to 25. The big dump in that multiday storm was the 13.5 inches that fell Dec. 23 on top of 13.5 inches in the preceding three days.

December 2012 was an outstanding month for snowfall with 105.25 inches at midmountain (122.25 at the summit) — December 2011, not so much. Total December snowfall that month was 24.5 inches, and the two largest storms delivered 7 inches of snow each, one Dec. 4 and another Dec. 22.

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