Balmy spring weather gives way to light snow starting Tuesday night
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — The record high temperature for March 8 in Steamboat Springs is 57 degrees in 1992. The projected high temperature Monday is 53 degrees, which would make it the warmest day of 2021 so far.
But the above-average temperatures are expected to cool off as the week moves on with a series of waves of light snow starting Tuesday night until Saturday.
During a productive February when it comes to snowfall — about 42 inches in town and about 90 inches at midmountain at Steamboat Resort — Steamboat Springs was in a weather pattern called northwest flow. The storms were generally moving down from the Gulf of Alaska, bringing colder temperatures and piling up the dry Champagne powder the area is famous for.
“Now, the storms have traveled southward along the West Coast, and they are approaching us from the desert Southwest,” said Mike Weissbluth, a local meteorologist who runs the forecasting website snowalarm.com. “We certainly can get snow under that regime, but we usually don’t have the cold air that is really good for productive snowfall.”
Tuesday should see highs nearing 50 degrees with mostly sunny skies, but the storm starts to roll in that night, potentially starting as rain at lower elevations and further west toward Craig but switching to snow overnight and continuing on and off until Saturday.
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Because this storm is from the southwest, it will not cause temperatures to plummet, instead returning them to the high-20s and low-30s that are average in March.
“Probably close to normal (temperatures) throughout this event,” said Kris Sanders, meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Grand Junction. “It is not going to be like what we were seeing in the winter — just get the big powder days. It might be a little bit of wetter snow, but it is still cold up top.”
It is unclear when the largest accumulations of snow will arrive because the storm has several waves that are not really developed yet, Sanders said. At higher elevations, Sanders said he expects to see more than a foot of new snow during the course of the storm.
While no particular day looks to be spectacular for snow, Weissbluth said he believes mild snow over the course of several days could really add up. He said he projects about 1 to 4 inches at midmountain each day Wednesday to Saturday, which could yield between 4 and 20 inches over the five-day span.
“If you get a couple of 4-inch days, that is not bad,” Weissbluth said.
With warmer weather comes a potential for wet slab avalanches, which generally happen when there is liquid water in the snow, and there are prolonged warm periods, according to the Colorado Avalanche Information Center.
Avalanche risk is at level 2 considerable in every region in Colorado on Monday, but the Steamboat and Flat Tops area is forecasted to drop to the lowest level of risk Tuesday.
“There have been surprisingly few wet avalanches over the last few days despite the warm temperatures,” Jason Konigsberg, who covers northwest Colorado for the center, wrote in the center’s forecast for the area Monday. “With clearing skies tonight and temperatures dropping to the low 20s, our wet avalanche issues should come to a halt until the next high-pressure period.”
There is still a risk for persistent slab avalanches that have been problematic in the backcountry all season, but the warmer weather did help to heal some of the dry, weak layers in the snowpack, Konigsberg wrote.
“The next week will bring stormy weather, and hopefully, enough load to again test these layers,” he said. “If we don’t see avalanches break near the ground with continued loading, it is possible we can come out of this unsettled period with a stronger and deeper snowpack.”
If that snow doesn’t come through this week, another storm looks to be setting up for early next week, but this one is back to coming from the northwest.
“It looked OK yesterday, and today, it looks great. It is another cold, northwest storm,” Weissbluth said about how next week’s storm was shaping up on weather models. “This is classic April. We have the full on spring skiing days when it is 40 degrees out, and we can also have our zero degree, cold powder days.”
To reach Dylan Anderson, call 970-871-4247 or email danderson@SteamboatPilot.com.
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