It's been quite a while since we've talked about a decent snowstorm impacting the state. Remember back just before Halloween when there was record cold and record snow? And then, radio silence. Yeah, we all got excited about the approaching season and then our balloons all seemed to deflate amid weeks upon weeks of dry weather.
I want to talk about what those 'weeks of dry weather' caused. Drought. And severe drought at that.
The drought in Colorado has been expanding ever since drier weather has been affecting us. The drought is most notable across the southern and western portions of the state. Notice the areas in severe drought, that's a big chunk of Colorado that's suffering from a lack of precipitation and that lack of precipitation has impacts based on the time of the year. For now, with severe drought, we see fire season extended which has been a minor concern but the bigger concern is the overall lack of snowpack in that area. Snowpack levels are down, meaning surface water levels are down and river flow is reduced. We need some healthy moisture chances for a long period of time to help eradicate this.
Drought has many effects across the state as I mentioned - but during this time of the year - drought typically means a lack of snow and therefore a struggling ski industry.
This is a look at the current snowpack and how it compares to the normal. Notice how much of the northern half of Colorado is above-normal for snowpack so far this season (cue early openings for resorts like Eldora, Monarch, Steamboat and Winter Park). The southern half of the state is struggling because most of our storms have tracked too far away from them to really benefit from the moisture. The result is drought and some significant drought at that.
The upcoming storm system that is poised to impact the state is thankfully taking a different path than the storms that we have seen already this season. Instead of coming from the northwest (think Western Canada or the Northern Rockies), this storm is coming from the Southwest (think Southern California and the Baja of California). This is good news because storms that coming from this direction tend to have a higher moisture content thanks to the direct source of water from the Pacific Ocean. Also, the storm will likely trek close to southwest Colorado bringing them some very beneficial snow.
Snow will begin in Southwest Colorado by late Tuesday night. The heaviest of the snow will fall on Wednesday when all mountain locations will likely pick up between 2 and 12" of snow. The heaviest snow will fall across southwest Colorado (great news for Telluride and Purgatory). This storm isn't just a one-day event either, there's a secondary burst of energy trailing behind that storm that will produce snow from Wednesday night through Friday night!
Total snow from this longer-duration snow event will top a foot and a half in certain areas.
This is just one solution of the models for the upcoming snow. Note that this is total snow through Saturday morning.
The big point to note is the amount of snow you see over southwest Colorado. This is great news for ski areas like Wolf Creek who opened on Halloween and has been operating on weekends since. This will allow for more terrain to open hopefully. This is also great news for areas like Telluride, and Purgatory who are planning on opening by the Thanksgiving holiday. With that said, most ski areas around the state will benefit from this upcoming snow.
In other great news: it looks as though we are beginning a cycle of snowy weather. Looking at the longer-range models, 3 to 4 more storm systems could impact the state between now and the first week of December! That bodes well for powder days and the opening of more ski areas across the state. You should also remember that with snow, comes cold weather. Several blasts of cold air will affect us. We're talking highs and lows running 5-20º below average. Bundle up!
Andy is Colorado Ski Country's Communication Coordinator. He is also a trained meteorologist with over 6 years of experience working most recently as a broadcast meteorologist.