Our pleasant respite from cold and snow is drawing to a close in Colorado, as the weather pattern shifts back to being very active this weekend. A powerful storm system is developing in the central Pacific and will bring plenty of precipitation to the western United States during the next 3 to 5 days.
How did this storm start?
Rain and snow are already falling over most of the Pacific Northwest and will move into the northern and central Rockies starting on Friday. Winter Storm Watches and Warnings have been posted from the Cascades to the Wasatch Mountains all the way into northwestern Colorado.
The snow will begin to fall in the northern and central mountains during the day on Friday, but this will just be the leading edge of the main storm. Satellite images actually show moisture from this storm extends from the West Coast all the way back to Hawaii. This system is going to be a “Pineapple Express” – meaning that it will tap tropical moisture from the central Pacific and carry it into California, and eventually to Colorado.
These kind of storm systems are not uncommon during an El Nino winter, as the added heat in the equatorial Pacific helps to fuel these potent precipitation producers. Heavy rain, flooding and mudslides will be the weather worries in California, along with several feet of wet, slushy snow for the Sierra Nevada.
As the storm system develops over the weekend, the rich flow of tropical moisture will be further enhanced by a very strong band of jet stream winds roaring in across the northern Pacific Ocean. The winds aloft may reach speeds close to 200 mph off the West Coast – adding much more energy to an already robust storm system.
For Denver and the eastern plains of Colorado, we will enjoy another warm, dry day on Friday under mostly sunny skies. High temperatures will be delightful ahead of the storm, with readings close to 60 degrees in Denver. Saturday will also be a pretty nice day, although clouds will be increasing as the western storm approaches. High temperatures will still manage to reach the mid to upper 50s.
The brief light snows in the mountains on Friday will be replaced by heavier and more widespread snowfall starting on Saturday. The “main event” for the Colorado high country will be Sunday and early Monday. Strong winds, heavy snow and poor visibility will create very difficult traveling conditions by late Sunday. The skiing will be great, but be prepared for a slick and very slow drive home Sunday evening.
The expected snowfall for the mountains will be 12-24 inches by midday Monday, with some west facing slopes getting closer to 3 feet of snow. The storm will begin to diminish in the high country Monday afternoon, but there will still be plenty of blowing snow and several more inches of snow accumulating through Tuesday morning.
The prime time for snow in the Denver area and across eastern Colorado will be Sunday night and Monday. The odds are looking good for 6-12 inches of snow, along with some strong northerly winds. Temperatures will be much colder as highs on Sunday drop to around 40 degrees, followed by readings staying around 30 on Monday. The Monday commutes will be icy and very slow – plenty of time and patience will be required. There may be some school delays and closures on Monday, especially for districts east of Denver.
By Tuesday, the storm will have zipped off to the east of Colorado, leaving flurries, gusty winds and cold temperatures. Highs will likely stay in the 20s in Denver and the lows will drop to the teens and even single digits.
Wednesday through Friday will stay dry on the plains, but periods of light snow can be expected in the mountains. Temperatures will be slow to moderate next week and may only get back into the 40s by Thursday and Friday.
Savor the 60s while you can tomorrow!
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