Spring snowstorm blankets Colorado mountains, sparking skier joy and traffic snarls
May 3, 2018
Colorado rafting typically runs May through August, but don't tell that to the skiers and snowboarders who hit the slopes Thursday after a late-season snowstorm blanketed Colorado's High Country overnight.
"Well, what can we say?" read a Tweet from A-Basin Ski Area. "(Thursday's) skiing and riding was incredible. Not just incredible for May — we'd say this ranks pretty high as one of the best days of the season!"
The snowstorm left as much as 20 inches in some areas at the highest elevations, according to meteorologist Joel Gratz with OpenSnow.com who explained it's not uncommon for May to bring snow to Colorado. He recalled one May snowstorm last year, and another the year before. However, while it's not uncommon for Colorado to see snow in May, it typically doesn't stick around too long.
"The best snow is up high," Gratz said as he noted that spring snowfall typically comes a little thicker and heavier than early season accumulations. "Oftentimes late-season storms pull moisture from the south, even Gulf of Mexico, and these late-season storms often have a little more moisture content."
The snowfall began early Wednesday evening with the deepest early accumulations, about 6-10 inches, landing on the southern mountains.
However, the storm strengthened overnight over the northeastern corner of Colorado, Gratz added, allowing heavy snow to wrap-around the storm and come back over the northern mountains.
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Prior to the storm hitting, meteorologists had been forecasting anywhere from 5-30 inches leading up to the storm. Gratz said that even with the best tools at their disposal, forecasters can still struggle sometimes to nail down exactly how things are going to develop.
He referenced a similar system a couple weeks ago, which had many forecasters predicting similar accumulations to what people woke up to on Thursday, but never really materialized. Gratz said the difference was this storm strengthened overnight whereas the earlier one weakened.
"That's a little nugget I'll stick in my file in case we see another storm like this next year," he added.
By Thursday morning, the ski resorts still operating this late into the season were enjoying the boon with Loveland Ski Area receiving 7 inches of new snow, Arapahoe Basin reporting 6 inches, and Mary Jane leading the way with 10 inches.
Two hours after the official reports came, it appeared an additional 2-4 inches of snow had fallen on the High Country with Gratz noting that webcams and SNOTEL sites in the northern mountains were showing up to 10 additional inches in some areas.
By 9:30 a.m., A-Basin was up to almost a foot of new snow and encouraged winter enthusiasts "to come get it."
Throughout the day Thursday, the deepest snowfall hit along the Interstate-70 corridor and north up to Rocky Mountain National Park and Cameron Pass, prompting state transportation officials to put traction and chain laws into effect as wrecks and hazardous conditions fouled up travel at higher elevations and on many mountain passes.
The result at the ski resorts, however, was a wonderful May powder day, Gratz wrote in what he predicted would likely be his final weather update of the 2017-18 ski season.
Furthermore, he thought, "the snow quality should actually be pretty good," while it lasts, as long as skiers and snowboarders weren't expecting a "total blower."
According to the National Weather Service, the snowfall will recede almost as quickly as it came with rain and snow expected to continue through late Thursday before giving way to warmer temps and sunny skies today.
"We're working against the angle of the sun and general tilt of the Earth this time of year," Gratz said of how long the fresh powder might last. "While (snow in May) is not uncommon, the quality powder doesn't last very long. Once the sun comes out, the snow degrades pretty quickly."
In fact, today's forecast calls for sunny skies with highs in the 50s and a slight chance of thunderstorms after 2 p.m.
Digital engagement editor Heather Jarvis contributed.