DENVER – Prepare to say goodbye to spring-like weather in the Denver metro as a complex winter storm arrives from the southwest by the weekend.
While there’s a higher degree of confidence about what the storm will do in the high country (dropping between eight to 16 inches of snow) starting late Friday afternoon through the end of Saturday, there are still a lot of unknowns as to what that will look like for the Front Range and the I-25 Corridor, forecasters with the National Weather Service (NWS) in Boulder said Thursday.
Winter storm warnings are set to take effect for Aspen, Buford, Columbine, Crested Butte, Hahns Peak, Lake City, Marble, Ouray, Snowmass, Taylor Park, Telluride, Toponas, Trappers Lake, and Vail starting from 11 a.m. Friday to 5 p.m. Saturday. Winter weather advisories will also go into effect starting at 5 p.m. Friday for the Upper Yampa River Basin, which includes Steamboat Springs, Rio Blanco, and the eastern Uinta Mountains from 5 p.m. Friday to 5 a.m. Saturday.
Those heading to the mountains will likely encounter difficult travel conditions through the weekend, especially over the high mountain passes, the NWS warned, as it advised drivers to prepare for significant winter driving conditions if traveling through the warned areas.
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So what’s this storm system going to do for the Denver metro? Forecasters are still not quire sure.
“There’s still a lot that we really don’t have a foundation yet on what the impact will be,” said warning coordination meteorologist for the NWS Greg Heavener during a weather briefing call later Thursday. “Everything is still on the table for a high-end event or a low-impact scenario.”
It all comes down to how much cold air seeps in from the north as a low-pressure system moves east toward the plains, and how much moisture gets trapped from the Gulf of Mexico.
If the convergence of all three happens — meaning we get colder air, the system from the west slows down, and we have a lot of moisture from the Gulf — then the foothills could be looking at totals ranging anywhere from four to 14 inches of snowfall. The metro area, including Denver, could see somewhere between 6 and 13 inches of snow by the time all is said and done.
If the opposite occurs — meaning the low-pressure system moves too far to our south, it doesn’t get as cold and the majority of the moisture gets pushed to the east or northeast — then it’s more likely Denver won’t see even a trace of snowfall, while the foothills see about only about four inches of fresh powder.
“The guidance has been flip-flopping back-and-forth,” Heavener said. “This is why we don’t know what’s really going to happen.”
While there is still a heavy snow threat for the I-25 Corridor on Saturday afternoon into Saturday night, “it looks like mostly a rain event for us as those temperatures stay pretty warm,” with highs in the low 40s for both Saturday and Sunday, according to Denver7 meteorologist Stacey Donaldson.
Those in the Denver metro (including Boulder, Aurora and Centennial) can expect rain starting by about 6 p.m. Friday through the overnight hours of Saturday. From about 6 a.m. Saturday and for the next 12 hours, there is a potential for a wintry mix, with more snow happening overnight Sunday, according to the latest models from the NWS.
Those on the plains, particularly people east of Greeley to Limon, will most likely see rain rather than snow, but forecasters warned there was still a threat of a changeover to light snow Saturday night into Sunday as the storm system moves through.
“Given the parameters spoken of above, it's still a storm worth watching very carefully,” forecasters said.