Storm pattern headed Steamboat's way is 'perfect for heavy snow'

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— For anyone with some sick days left in 2013, Wednesday promises to be a good day to come down with a case of the white flu.

The meteorologists who focus closely on Colorado ski country say Steamboat could be in for snow accumulations of 13 to 22 inches. Snow could begin to fall on the slopes of Mount Werner Tuesday afternoon, intensify overnight and continue into Wednesday morning.

Forecasters say several factors are coming together to produce ideal orographic lift that causes storms to give everything they have to give when they slam straight into a mountain range.

Meteorologist Julie Malingowski with the National Weather Service in Grand Junction said an Arctic front that is heading for Northern Colorado is coming all the way down from the interior of Alaska. And it could drive a snowy pattern that will persist, with some breaks in the action, for the next week and a half, she added.

“This is the big whammy,” Malingowski said late Monday afternoon. “We have this front coming down with really, really cold air that will be a good snow producer, and on Tuesday, we’ll have the ideal wind regime with the northwesterly flow.”

Joel Gratz of Open Snow concurred.

“The upcoming weather pattern is absolutely perfect for heavy snow, and here's why,” Gratz wrote Monday morning. “First, we'll have plenty of moisture in the atmosphere to create snow. Second, the wind direction at and above mountain top is from a west-ish direction, which means all mountains can see good snow because this wind gets lifted up by the mountains and rising air creates snow.”

Mike Weissbluth of the SnowAlarm blog said Steamboat should receive 8 to 16 inches on its slopes by Wednesday morning.

“A storm currently situated to our northwest will affect our area perhaps as early as Monday night with light showers and very windy conditions,” Weissbluth wrote early Monday afternoon. “The cold front that will bring the very cold winter-like temperatures southward is now projected to move across the area a bit faster than earlier forecasted, perhaps as early as Tuesday morning. Good snows Tuesday should produce 8 to 16 inches on the hill by Wednesday morning.”

Gratz said he’s not certain the heaviest snow will fall in the north, but he is confident that most mountain locations in Colorado will see heavy snow with accumulations in the range of 10 to 18 inches before the storm winds down Wednesday. And his individualized forecast for the Steamboat Ski Area anticipated the appetizer on Monday night would bring 1 to 3 inches of snow followed by 3 to 6 inches during the day on Tuesday, another 8 inches to a foot overnight and perhaps 2 to 4 inches fairly early on Wednesday.

There are multiple dynamics contributing to the lift this storm could generate, according to Gratz.

“The atmosphere will lift the air in two additional ways,” he said." One way will be a cold front that stalls over northern and central Colorado. The front is like a wedge, forcing air to rise up and over the front. The second way is the jet stream, which will stay over Colorado for 36-plus hours. The fast moving air of the jet stream at 35,000 feet helps lift the air below it, and since rising air makes snow, this is also working in our favor.”

As the first bout of snow weakens, the Weather Service expects Wednesday’s high temperature to be just 16 degrees followed by a dip to 2 degrees below zero overnight. The high won’t get out of the teens Thursday followed by 11 below Thursday night and a frigid high of 12 degrees Friday.

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

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