Looking at the weather warning map for today the phrase ‘fire and ice’ comes to mind. While the plains see a Red Flag Warning for high fire danger, a Winter Storm Watch has now been issues for much of the high country west of the Continental Divide.
With moisture expected to stream in from the Pacific and a cold front being pulled down from the north by the jet stream, the stage is set for Colorado’s first significant snow event of the season.
Accordingly, the National Weather Service has issued a Winter Storm Watch for much of the higher elevations of Colorado from Wednesday night through Thursday night. Cities from Crested Butte and Taylor Park up to Aspen and Vail are in the watch area.
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The San Juan Mountains in the southwestern part of the state will see snow beginning tonight and through Wednesday morning. Two to four inches of the white stuff are expected above 10,000 feet and will be joined with strong winds.
Wednesday night the action shifts further north and includes the central and northern mountains west of the Continental Divide. Snow levels will begin to drop and heavy snow from 6 to 12 inches will be possible above 9,000 feet. From 7,000 to 9,000 feet, 3 to 6 inches of snow is possible.
With this storm system likely being the first significant event of the season, motorists and recreationalists will need to monitor the weather closely and not be caught unprepared.
Hunting season is in full swing and those caught outside in the elements may find themselves in a precarious situation quickly. Motorists can expect accumulating snow on roads and travel could become difficult, particularly on the higher mountain passes.
From the National Weather Service:
URGENT – WINTER WEATHER MESSAGE
NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE GRAND JUNCTION CO
1245 PM MDT TUE OCT 4 2011
…The first significant winter storm arrives late Wednesday night with possible heavy snow above 9000 feet…
A strong pacific storm punches across the western states and reaches the eastern Utah and western Colorado mountains late Wednesday night. Initially the snow levels will be near 10,000 feet…but a cold front moving across the region during the day on Thursday will rapidly lower the snow levels to near the mountain bases by Thursday evening. For elevations above 9000 feet…heavy snow will be possible from late Wednesday night through Thursday night where 6 to 12 inches of snow may occur.
For elevations between 7000 to 9000 feet…snow accumulations may not occur until Thursday afternoon or evening. When the cold front arrives…a sudden burst of heavy wet snow for two to six hours may occur with snowfall accumulations of 3 to 6 inches possible.
Outdoor enthusiasts such as hikers and hunters should make plans dramatic weather changes on Thursday. Rapidly falling temperatures to around freezing combined with heavy wet snow and blustery winds are ideal conditions for hypothermia.
Motorists driving over mountain passes should be prepared for fast changes with rain changing over to accumulating snow. Heavy snow and dense fog will make for poor visibilities. Accumulating snow will make for slushy and slippery conditions over the mountain passes. Traveling into the high country will become challenging if not prepared for the first significant winter storm of the season.
… Winter Storm Watch in effect from late Wednesday night through late Thursday night…
The National Weather Service in Grand Junction has issued a Winter Storm Watch… which is in effect from late Wednesday night through late Thursday night.
* Timing… periods of snowfall… heavy at times… are expected late Wednesday night through Thursday. Heaviest snowfall should occur Thursday night.
* Snow accumulation… above 9000 feet… 6 to 12 inches will be possible. Between 7000 to 9000 feet… 3 to 6 inches of snow may occur.
* Snow level… will fluctuate between 9000 feet to 10000 late Wednesday night and Thursday morning… but will rapidly lower to the mountain bases by early Thursday evening.
* Winds… gusty winds of 30 to 40 mph will be common… especially over open areas… ridges… and mountain passes.
* Visibility… less than one mile visibility is expected at times over the mountains and High Mountain passes… with lower visibility in heavier snow showers.
* Impacts… roads will become slushy or snow packed over the mountains passes. Driving conditions will become challenging and hazardous… especially Thursday afternoon and evening when freezing temperatures and snow levels lower to 6000 to 7000 feet.
A Winter Storm Watch means there is a potential for significant snow accumulations and/or blowing snow that may impact travel. Continue to monitor the latest forecasts.