First major winter storm on its way |

First major winter storm on its way

Lauren Glendenning
Vail, CO Colorado

EAGLE COUNTY, Colorado – The recent trend of sunny, dry days around the valley is about to end as the first major storm of the 2012-13 winter season moves into the Colorado mountains this weekend.

Vail Mountain is scheduled to open next Friday, and mountain officials are waiting to see what this weekend’s storm brings before announcing terrain openings for next week.

Powder forecaster Joel Gratz, a meteorologist who runs, has decided to name winter storms across the west this season, following the Weather Channel’s lead to officially name storms this winter. Gratz reports on his website that it doesn’t seem like the Weather Channel is naming storms that bring powder to ski resorts across the west, though, so he’s doing it himself.

Gratz is going bipartisan with his first named storm, Obamney, which is expected to bring the most snow to the southern San Juan Mountains this weekend, and a “healthy” amount of snow for most other Colorado mountain regions., according to Gratz’s forecast.

The National Weather Service forecast shows less than half an inch possible around Vail Friday, then 1 to 3 inches possible Friday night. Blowing snow is possible Saturday morning, then snow is likely after 11 a.m., with 3 to 5 inches forecasted. The chance for snow remains at 80 percent Saturday night and Sunday, so more accumulation is possible.

Gratz’s forecast, which is more detailed than the Weather Service’s in terms of powder forecasting, shows a snowy Saturday morning. The second snow round Saturday night “will add some fluffy flakes on top of a good base,” Gratz forecasts, “so Sunday morning could be the time to find the fluffiest snow.”

The storm has also caught the attention of the Colorado Avalanche Information Center, which forecasts avalanche danger around the state.

The primary storm system arrives late Friday night, with snow spreading east through all mountain zones Saturday morning, according to the information center.

“A period of moderate to heavy snow is likely on Saturday for all mountain zones near and west of the Continental Divide. Winds remain southwest during this period resulting in 1 to 2 foot snow accumulations for areas favored by southwest flow including the San Juan Mountains, West Elks, Grand Mesa, and Steamboat zone,” the information center reports. “Other zones west of the Divide can expect 6-12 inches. As the storm system moves across the state on Sunday, expect much colder temperatures and lighter snowfall to continue with several more inches favoring the northern and central zones. An active jet stream remains in place for next week with several chances for mountain snow.”

As of now, the National Weather Service forecast shows sunshine next week, but Gratz always points out that shorter term forecasting is best. His forecast only shows snowfall predictions through Monday, for now.

Gratz shows 2 to 4 inches for Vail Friday night, 2 to 4 inches Saturday, 2 to 4 inches Saturday night and then another 1 to 2 inches Sunday. The biggest dumps are expected in Silverton and Wolf Creek, with as much as 29 inches possible in those areas.

Now is the time to start thinking about avalanche awareness for the upcoming winter season, the avalanche information center’s John Snook reported Thursday.

“No avalanche incidents have been reported in Colorado thus far, but winter is coming and that means avalanche season is upon us,” Snook reported. “It is time to start thinking about mountain weather and snowpack. It is not unusual for avalanche incidents and fatalities to make headlines in our state long before most of us are thinking about the consequences of an early season encounter. Avalanche accidents have occurred in Colorado every month of the year.”

Resorts currently open along the Interstate 70 corridor include Arapahoe Basin, Keystone, Loveland, Copper Mountain and Breckenridge, which opens today.

Assistant Managing Editor Lauren Glendenning can be reached at 970-748-2983 or

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