Important Information Before the Forecast-
The National Weather Service has issued a Winter Storm Warning for Denver and the
surrounding areas from 5pm today (1/31) through noon on Tuesday (2/2). As a good rule of thumb, travel with an emergency kit including food, water, a snow shovel (or kitty litter if you get stuck), and extra clothing. There will be large amounts of snow over the next 48 hours that could cause you to get stranded if you’re out.
From the NWS-
"A WINTER STORM WARNING FOR HEAVY SNOW MEANS SEVERE WINTER WEATHER CONDITIONS ARE EXPECTED OR OCCURRING. SIGNIFICANT AMOUNTS OF SNOW ARE FORECAST THAT WILL MAKE TRAVEL DANGEROUS. ONLY TRAVEL IN AN EMERGENCY. IF YOU MUST TRAVEL...KEEP AN EXTRA FLASHLIGHT... FOOD...AND WATER IN YOUR VEHICLE IN CASE OF AN EMERGENCY."
A Quick Bone to Pick with the Media Hype-Train
As expected, the “B” word has been thrown around a lot over the last couple of days and it’s problematic (and a bit annoying) for more than one reason. To those of us who have experienced heavy snow in Colorado, the word “blizzard” evokes images of being snowed in for days, the shut down of businesses, and digging cars out waste deep snow.
Realistically, we don’t need the huge amount of snow to have a blizzard and a lot of people learned that hard lesson when the NWS put out a blizzard warning for Denver on November 17th and Denver wound up with only a couple inches of snow. That disappointment came as a result of a fundamental misunderstanding of what a weather phenomena is needed to declare a blizzard. According to the criteria below, the November 17th storm was a blizzard, it just didn’t include a lot of snow.
“To be a blizzard, a snow storm must have sustained winds or frequent gusts that are greater than or equal to 56 km/h (35 mph) with blowing or drifting snow which reduces visibility to 400 m or 0.25 miles or less and must last for a prolonged period of time—typically three hours or more.”
There will be a fundamental difference between the November 17th snow storm and the event that is going to start later this afternoon. This storm system will have much lower winds and that implies that, while this storm will will give us considerably more snow, it won’t technically be a blizzard.
The point of this seemingly random exercise is to point out the fact that buzz words tend
to get thrown around a lot during these events and, generally, it’s with disregard to their actual meanings. The word “blizzard” hypes people up and it generates more of that sweet sweet ad revenue that news outlets love. Want proof that it gets people all worked up? Head to your local grocery store today if you didn’t go shopping yesterday. It will be in complete chaos with Mad Max style brawls that break out over parking spaces or who gets the last turnip (looking at you Mario). This discussion is not to put news networks or weather anchors on trial, it’s to preach and apply the same logical approach that we take to the weather to the hype-train that so often mis-reports it. Networks generate money through viewership and the best way to create it is to over-hype something. So, the next time the apocalypse is announced on TV, whether or not it pertains to weather, take a step back and look at it logically (I have to do this a lot) and chances are high that it won’t be as big of a deal.
Anyway, enough of my ramblings. On with the forecast!
Storm to Arrive Earlier than Expected
This storm appears just as anxious to get here as we are to see what it has in store for us. The latest data suggests that rather than starting tomorrow morning between 6-8am, we will be getting our first snow from the latest system today between 4-5pm. It will move in from the south initially and then build to the north along the I-25 corridor. While the storm will be coming into the area earlier, it will still stay through Tuesday and that’s really what’s going to give us our larger snow amounts. We aren’t expecting extremely heavy snow rates, but rather, a prolonged period of light to moderate rates with the heaviest snow falling tomorrow afternoon and evening. This provides positives and negatives as far as snow days go. If things start to shut down due to snow or your work is nice enough to keep everyone at home, it will be for longer. On the other hand, if people are able to keep up with clearing the snow as it falls, you might not get the snow day that you’re hoping for. Only time will tell.
The Forecast and Snow Totals
Overall, not much has changed as far as what the models are predicting (that’s a good thing! It means they’re high in confidence). Every model run that has come in over the last 48 hours has an average of roughly 12″ for Denver and up to 20″ in the areas of higher terrain such as the eastern foothills and the Palmer Divide. The NAM’s snow forecast (pictured above) is still a bit low on it’s numbers, in my opinion. The other models seem to have a bit more snow, but the picture above gives an accurate illustration of the distribution of the snow totals. With model confidence fairly high in this system, I’m going to keep my forecast at 6-12″ for the Denver Metro area. As you can see from the map above, the northern metro area will get a it less with 5-10″, the west side and foothills will see 10-20″ (with higher amounts on high peaks), and the southern and eastern areas will see 7-14″ of snow. We will get one more good model run later tonight (around 10pm) and another tomorrow morning around (10am) and I will adjust the forecast as necessary after that.