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Incoming storm expected to tamp down wildfires, give snowmaking a boost

The storm is expected to kick into high gear Sunday, but snow total predictions are wide ranging, with between 5 and 24 inches expected to fall on Vail Pass, according to Open Snow.
Map from Open Snow

FRISCO — For the second time this fall, Summit County will move straight from a red flag warning to a major snowstorm in a matter of hours on Saturday evening.

And Colorado is desperate for the moisture.

Despite falling temperatures, the fire danger remains very high in Summit County, with Stage 2 fire restrictions in place.

Gusty winds Friday and Saturday won’t do any favors for crews working nearby wildfires, including the East Troublesome Fire, which grew by 150,000 acres Wednesday night and Thursday, destroying an unknown number of homes.

The red flag warning — which indicates extreme fire weather, including high winds and low relative humidity — calls for sustained winds of 20-30 mph with gusts up to 60 mph through 7 p.m. Saturday, when the snowstorm is expected to arrive.

According to the National Weather Service office in Boulder, there is a 60% chance of snow Saturday night with little to no accumulation in the towns. The storm is expected to kick into high gear Sunday, but snow total predictions are wide ranging, with between 5 and 24 inches expected to fall on Vail Pass, according to Open Snow.

Joel Gratz, founding meteorologist at Open Snow, said that’s not unusual for a storm that is still a couple of days out.

“I am confident that the jet stream will create a not-so-narrow band of intense snow from late Saturday night through Sunday night across the northern and central mountains, and also that there should be a second time of intense snow on Sunday night into Monday for the southern mountains,” Gratz wrote in his Friday morning blog post.

The National Weather Service is forecasting lower snow totals.

“Right now, the forecast is about 3-5 inches for the valleys and 12-15 inches, it looks like, for the peaks, and obviously as you go up from the valley toward those peaks, you get progressively more,” weather service meteorologist Evan Direnzo said.

He also noted that the forecast is likely to change as we get closer to the storm.

“Winter storms have a lot of … uncertainly involved,” he said.

No matter how much snow falls, the higher humidity and lower temperatures will provide some relief for firefighters.

“Little changes in weather can make a pretty significant change in fire behavior,” Summit Fire & EMS spokesperson Steve Lipsher said. “Temperatures dropping can reduce fire behavior, believe it or not. Humidity rising can reduce fire behavior.”

“Obviously, if the winds diminish, it’s going to dramatically reduce the aggressiveness of a fire compared to when the wind is howling,” he added.

Firefighters from Summit Fire as well as Red, White & Blue Fire Protection District in Breckenridge are lending a hand on the East Troublesome Fire in nearby Grand County, Lipsher said.

“The small, little fire departments are the ones that take on the initial attack, and then we ramp up the resources,” Lipsher said about Grand County’s urgent call for help as the fire blew up Wednesday.

“They send out an SOS, and we all come running,” he said.

“We just kind of borrow and lean on each other and form these networks … because we realize we’re all in this together, and the next one could be us,” Lipsher said, adding that Summit firefighters on the front lines are gaining invaluable, real-world experience.

The storm system brings with it low overnight temperatures that are expected to dip into the single digits Sunday and Monday nights, giving a helping hand to snowmaking crews across the High Country.

According to spokesperson Nicole Stull, Breckenridge Ski Resort began making snow for the season overnight Thursday into Friday, the last ski resort in Summit County to do so.

Keystone Resort is scheduled to open Nov. 6, Breckenridge is set to open Nov. 13, and Copper Mountain Resort will open Nov. 30. Arapahoe Basin Ski Area has not set an opening date but is expected to kick off the season as soon as it has covered a trail in the man-made white stuff.


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