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While early, signs are favorable for Steamboat’s snow prospects

Strong sea ice measurements and cold air in the Bering Sea have local meteorologist optimistic.

Steamboat woke up Aug. 20 to witness the first snow of the season on Mount Werner. Shelby Reardon/Steamboat Pilot & Today

While it is still early, local meteorologist Mike Weissbluth said more cold air and stronger sea ice measurements in the Bering Sea are encouraging signs ahead of the ski season.

“I have really not seen such a persistent pattern of cold air getting dumped into (the Bering Sea),” said Weissbluth, who runs the forecasting website SnowAlarm.com. “It’s encouraging; I’ve seen the cold air, and we’re measuring more sea ice.”

Sea ice melts and breaks up through the summer, generally reaching its minimum level around this time of year. Weissbluth said measurements of that ice for this year shows it will likely be one of the higher minimums in the past decade. The National Snow and Ice Data Center said the level of ice would likely bottom out at the highest mark since 2007.



Weissbluth said it isn’t entirely clear if the ice is leading to more cold air or the cold air is maintaining more ice, but either way, it is a sign that leads him to be more optimistic about this year’s snowfall outlook.

“I feel better at this time this year than I felt at this time last year,” he said. “Hopefully it is colder and wetter, and so far the signs seem to indicate that it wants to trend in that direction.”

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While the amount of sea ice is encouraging, the rate it melted comes in near the 30-year average of ice in August between 1981 and 2010, according to snow and ice data. Compared to the amount of ice in August 1979, arctic ice measured in August has declined by about 1.2 million square miles, which is roughly double the size of the state of Alaska.

“I want to temper the enthusiasm here because this is still very much below the mean that we have between 1981 and 2010,” Weissbluth said. “We’re kind of skirting in the lowest 10% of those 30 years, but we had much better ski seasons then. The hope is this is indicative of a colder, wetter pattern.”

Jeff Colton, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Grand Junction, said storms that are moving through Routt County early this week are early signs of the winter weather pattern. The trend of more storms coming from the northwest — which brings most of Steamboat’s best winter weather — looks to be increasing over the next few weeks according to weather models, Colton said.

“Those northwest storms are getting a little more active,” Colton said. “We are seeing more storms move into the Pacific Northwest, and that seems to be the case for the next couple of weeks.”

The hit-or-miss thunderstorms that developed over northwest Colorado on Sunday are what is expected for Monday and Tuesday this week as well, Colton said, though he doesn’t expect any heavy rain.

“When we start to see grazing storms, that is the beginning. We had that first snowfall a couple of weeks ago,” Weissbluth said, referring to a dusting on Mount Werner on Aug. 20. “We had a rogue chunk of air breakaway and move over us. Eventually, that stuff will start happening with more regularity.”

After these grazing cool fronts move through, Weissbluth said it dries out and gets a little warmer for the rest of the week. It will likely be a few degrees above the this time of year’s average in the low 70s, but it wont be hot either, he said.

Colton said there will likely be increased winds Thursday and Friday, which could lead to increased fire concerns, but the forecast does not suggest conditions would merit a red flag warning.

There is a storm over the Bering Sea currently that looks to impact the Yampa Valley sometime next weekend, likely Saturday night, Colton said.

Weissbluth said these storms are getting shunted to the north right now, but eventually, the jet stream will continue to strengthen, and northern storms will bring more cold air south.

“We’re kind of transitioning seasons right now,” Colton said. “We’re pushing away from the monsoon season and more into fall, and that’s when we start to see a lot of these systems come in.”


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