More than 2 feet of snow expected for Steamboat mountains: Storm warning, avalanche watch in effect until weekend
While it'll mean great headaches for some, skiers and riders should get ready for 'classic, old-school Steamboat powder day'
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — More than two feet of snow and strong winds are expected to hit the mountains around Steamboat Springs on Thursday and Friday, causing travel difficulties and heightened avalanche danger.
A winter storm warning is in effect from midnight Wednesday until 8 p.m. Friday, issued by the National Weather Service in Grand Junction. An avalanche watch also is in effect for nearby mountains through Thursday afternoon, including the Park Range, Flat Tops, Medicine Bow and the Never Summer mountains, according to the Colorado Avalanche Information Center.
Officials are urging drivers to use caution when traveling and to stay off steep slopes when recreating in the backcountry.
Heavy snowfall should begin early Thursday morning, according to local meteorologist Mike Weissbluth, who runs the forecasting website snowalarm.com. He is calling for 2 to 5 inches at midmountain by Thursday morning. Though, the forecasting models do show some uncertainty regarding those predictions.
The Weather Service is calling for greater accumulations, according to meteorologist Jonathon Klepatzki.
If the Weather Service’s predictions hold out, the snowfall total could range from 16 to 32 inches by Saturday.
The storm is originating from a moisture-heavy system from the Pacific Ocean, Weissbluth said. It is carrying so much moisture that meteorologists are labeling the system an “atmospheric river,” he explained.
“It’s going to mean a lot of snow,” he said.
Heavy snow showers should continue throughout the day Thursday, with rates of 1 inch of fresh snow falling per hour, according to Weissbluth. He predicts another 6 to 12 inches of new snow by Thursday night. Even heavier snowfall should occur through Friday afternoon, with rates of 2 inches of fresh snow falling per hour.
An additional 4 to 8 inches could be on the mountains in time for the Friday morning report at Steamboat Resort, according to Weissbluth.
Gusting winds up to 45 mph will accompany the snowfall, the Weather Service advised in its winter storm warning. That could make travel very difficult, particularly on mountain passes. Weissbluth expects temporary closures on Rabbit Ears Pass amid the storm.
The public can stay up to date on mountain and road conditions with Steamboat Pilot & Today’s live camera feeds. Drivers should carry a flashlight, food and water in their vehicles in case of an emergency.
• Find the latest forecast and recent weather stories here.
• View Steamboat webcams here.
• Find information from the National Weather Service, including storm warnings and advisories at wrh.noaa.gov
• The Colorado Department of Transportation provides road conditions, closures and traffic cameras at cotrip.org.
• For travel information by phone, call 511 (in Colorado) or dial 303-639-1111.
• Find information about avalanche danger and conditions from the Colorado Avalanche Information Center.
• For flight information, visit flightview.com/traveltools.
‘Mountain should ski pretty well’ with storm
While all the snow may be a headache for travelers, it should be a dream come true for skiers and riders. Cooler temperatures should keep the snow light and fluffy, Weissbluth said. Steamboat Resort should be largely protected from the wind, which is expected to blow from the northwest.
“I’m optimistic the mountain should ski pretty well,” Weissbluth said.
He is especially excited to ski on Friday, which he expects to be “a classic, old-school Steamboat powder day.”
For those heading into the backcountry, the Avalanche Information Center is forecasting high avalanche danger on Thursday and Friday.
Brian Lazar, executive director of the center, said the mixture of heavy snowfall and gusting winds are causing the heightened risk. The conditions could be dangerous enough to cause natural avalanches without human triggers, he said.
On Tuesday, one skier got partially buried in an avalanche in the Gore Range near Vail, according to Lazar.
He advises people to avoid traveling on or below slopes steeper than 30 degrees. People also should carry the proper safety equipment into the backcountry, including an avalanche beacon, probe and shovel. It is discouraged to travel alone.
The avalanche danger is predicted to decline as calmer weather returns to Steamboat over the weekend.
For the most recent avalanche forecast, visit colorado.gov/avalanche.
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