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Colorado Daily Snow

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Wildfire smoke forecast maps, the two week forecast, and next season’s outlook

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Update

If you live or play in northern Colorado, I am sure you have noticed smoke from two major wildfires that are burning near I-70 close to Glenwood Springs and close to Grand Junction.

Thankfully, the hard-working scientists at NOAA have developed an experimental yet wonderful wildfire smoke forecast that extends 18 hours into the future. We have taken this data and incorporated it into brand new map views for our summer product OpenSummit.com (also available as iPhone and Android apps).

Here is a short example of the wildfire smoke forecast for Wednesday, August 12 from 12pm to 8pm.

And below is a higher-resolution still-frame of the wildfire smoke forecast for Wednesday, August 12 at 7pm.

The smoke forecast updates every hour and extends 18 hours into the future. However, since this is still an experimental product from NOAA, the forecast does go down occasionally, and the morning of Wednesday, August 12 is one of these times where the forecast hasn’t updated. I hope it will update again soon, and any downtime is usually limited to just a few hours.

For a bit more context on the wildfires, here are their locations on the excellent Inciweb map.

While maps and forecasts are useful to locate the fires and the smoke, it’s hard to beat an actual image of the smoke. The FAA just installed new mountain cams across Colorado and we’ll be bringing the relevant cams into OpenSnow so that we can all keep track of real-time weather over the higher passes.

Below is an image from a new cam at Sunlight, near Glenwood Springs, showing the wildfire smoke settling into the valleys on the morning of Wednesday, August 12th.

Before I completely change focus, here's a plug of OpenSummit, which has come a long way this summer, is now my go-to forecasting app, and I think offers a ton of great features that you cannot find elsewhere.

* We have a lot of maps including 2-hour animations of real-time radar, 18-hour forecasts for precipitation (some call this “Future Radar”), 18-hour forecasts for smoke, and 18-hour forecasts of temperature. These maps look and animate beautifully on any computer and on our apps.

* OpenSummit is all about forecasts for trails, and one of the important parts of heading out on a trail is knowing its condition. We just launched “Estimated Trail Conditions” which use the past 24 hours of weather conditions to let you know if you should expect trails to be dry, a little wet, or likely very wet. You can see this info at a glance for each of the 1,000+ points that we forecast for.

* The OpenSummit forecast makes it easy to see if precipitation, lightning, or wind will be an issue for your adventure using simple color-coding.

Below is an example of Estimated Trail Conditions (all dry!) and the color-coding of the weather forecast for Mt. Elbert (heads up for wind and lightning). Once the colors help you to get a quick glance at any weather issues, you can dig into hourly forecasts.

Best of all, OpenSummit All-Access is included with OpenSnow All-Access, so if you’re already an All-Access subscriber, you get everything in BOTH sites/apps. If you're not an All-Access subscriber, create an account here and then you'll be able to upgrade to All-Access: https://opensummit.com/user/register

Long Term

This summer has been drier and warmer than average across all of Colorado.

And with persistent dry and warm weather, you don’t need a weatherperson to let you know that drought is now an issue.

Unfortunately for our drought and for our current wildfires, there is NO sign of cooler air or significant precipitation in the next two weeks. Below is the 8-14 day forecast showing warmer than average temperatures and a drier than average precipitation outlook.

It is not very fun to end on that note, so let’s look ahead to the upcoming winter.

Early indications from observations and model forecasts point toward a La Nina developing, which means colder than average water temperatures in the central Pacific Ocean.

A La Nina often results in a snowy and cold weather pattern for the northwestern United States, western Canada, and the Northern Rockies (areas just north and west of Colorado).

Here in Colorado, La Nina winters MIGHT create a lot of snow for mountains favored by a northwest storm track, including many northern, central, and northern San Juan mountains), but La Nina only can influence the general storm track and does NOT guarantee big snow for any area. The storm track could easily shift a little east (bad for us) or a little west (good for us).

We’ll hope for the best but do NOT stop reading this and immediately yell to your spouse/friend/dog that this winter is going to be insanely snowy and the “best winter ever” because we just don’t know.

And speaking of not knowing about future things, we are in a pandemic, and this will massively influence ski area operations this winter. The honest truth is that while ski areas are making many contingency plans, most still do not know exactly how operations will look this winter. We’ll all likely need a little more patience than normal, a lot of respect and understanding, and some creativity to enjoy the snow in a safe and fun way this winter.

Thanks for reading!

JOEL GRATZ

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Geography Key

Northern Mountains
Steamboat, Granby, Beaver Creek, Vail, Ski Cooper, Copper, Breckenridge, Keystone, Loveland, Arapahoe Basin, Winter Park, Berthoud Pass, Eldora, Rocky Mountain National Park, Cameron Pass

Along the Divide
Loveland, Arapahoe Basin, Winter Park, Berthoud Pass

East of the Divide
Eldora, Echo, Rocky Mountain National Park, Cameron Pass

Central Mountains
Aspen, Sunlight, Monarch, Crested Butte, Irwin, Powderhorn

Southern Mountains
Telluride, Silverton – north side of the southern mountains | Purgatory, Wolf Creek – south side of the southern mountains

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