Winter season starting off strong, more snow early this week

A Colorado Department of Transportation plow truck clears snow from U.S. Highway 40 along Rabbit Ears Pass on Wednesday, Oct. 13. Snowfall on Rabbit Ears is outpacing the 30-year median so far, with nearly 400% the snow water equivalent. While not an indicator of things to come, it is a sign of a strong start to the winter.
John F. Russell/Steamboat Pilot & Today

Snowfall is outpacing the 30-year median in the mountains around Steamboat Springs so far, with some measurement locations on Buffalo Pass and Rabbit Ears Pass nearing 400% the median as of Oct. 30.

One measurement site north of Mount Zirkel, known as Lost Dog, is measuring 1,500% the amount of snow water equivalent of the median for late October. The Yampa-White-Little Snake river basin is more than double the median as a whole, the highest of any watershed in the state.

“It clearly shows that we have had more snow, through the state, than average,” said Mike Weissbluth, a local meteorologist who runs the forecasting website

But these numbers are not a forecast for what will happen through the rest of the season, Weissbluth said. They can even be a little misleading. Just 1.5 inches of snow water equivalent has been measured at Lost Dog, where the 30-year median for Oct. 30 is a measly 0.1 inches.

In all, the pace of snowfall this year is slightly ahead of last season and behind the 2019-20 winter season.

“You look up at the top of the mountain, and it looks good. There’s snow up there,” Weissbluth said, adding that the data shows little more than that. “Most of it is from that one storm, so it’s difficult to draw any long-term conclusions about it.”

That snow blanketing much of Mount Werner will be added to early this week, with a series of waves that will bring precipitation to the area, as Weissbluth said the weather pattern looks unsettled from Sunday night until Wednesday afternoon.

“It looks like we are going to have an impulse, some good precipitation from Sunday night into Monday,” Weissbluth said. “Probably just rain down here, maybe something like 2 to 4 inches up top.”

Brianna Bealo, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Grand Junction, said this first storm is moving around a low-pressure system that is rotating around the Great Lakes. This “wiggle” of a storm is caught between that system and another large low pressure off the coast of Oregon.

“We’re kind of in between these two really big systems so they have this tendency to influence each other,” Bealo said.

The storm that will start rolling through Tuesday will come from that Pacific system. Bealo said Northwest Colorado has been in a somewhat blocky pattern lately, where areas of low and high pressure tend to sit, making it difficult for weather models to predict what will happen.

Weissbluth said the short-term models in particular have been frustrating and often have significantly disagreed with longer-term predictions.

Right now, he expects the southern wave of the storm to move over during the day Tuesday with the northern part swinging over later into Tuesday night into Wednesday.

“I think up there we could be seeing 6 to 12 inches between Tuesday and Wednesday afternoon,” Weissbluth said, referring to higher elevations on Mount Werner. “We probably see 1 to 4 inches down here.”

Highs through the week are expected to be cooler, flirting with but not exceeding 50 degrees by much, if at all. Thursday and Friday are expected to be dry days, with a smaller, weaker system lining up for the start of this weekend, Weissbluth said.

“It’s very encouraging. That cold air getting dumped into the Bering Sea is just giving us a favorable pattern,” Weissbluth said. “Another small storm heading into the weekend, and then it looks like a break, but more stormy weather the following week.”

Support Local Journalism

Support Local Journalism

Readers around Steamboat and Routt County make the Steamboat Pilot & Today’s work possible. Your financial contribution supports our efforts to deliver quality, locally relevant journalism.

Now more than ever, your support is critical to help us keep our community informed about the evolving coronavirus pandemic and the impact it is having locally. Every contribution, however large or small, will make a difference.

Each donation will be used exclusively for the development and creation of increased news coverage.