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What we know and don't know about next week's snowstorm

Snow covered Pikes Peak
Posted at 1:38 PM, Feb 10, 2023
and last updated 2023-02-11 21:48:59-05

The First Alert 5 weather team is watching for a potentially high-impact winter storm in Colorado next week. Let's discuss what we see in model data as of Friday (Feb. 10) for the upcoming storm Tuesday to Wednesday next week (Feb. 14-15).

New model data comes in several times a day. Our team will continue to assess what we see and update accordingly.

If you are reading this after Friday, February 10, the forecast has likely changed and/or has been tweaked.

(The short version)
A winter storm looks likely to impact Colorado next Wednesday, with impacts as early as Tuesday night and as late as Thursday morning. It is still too early for an accurate snow total forecast, but snow is expected to impact travel on the roads and possibly airlines.

Impacts will be seen state-wide and likely in New Mexico and Wyoming as well. The areas of highest impact are still yet to be determined. Have a plan B for travel plans on Wednesday. It will be important to remain up to date each day as confidence in the forecast increases and model data changes.

Timing

A weaker storm will precede our larger system on Monday. This first round of snow will impact areas south of HWY 50 on Monday. Accumulations look light at this time, with the highest impacts in the southern mountains, such as the San Juans, Sangre De Cristos, and Raton Pass.

Tuesday will be an "in-between storms" day. As soon as Tuesday night, snow looks to move into the western slope and perhaps into the Denver metro/northern Colorado I-25 corridor. Snow will expand into south and eastern Colorado overnight into Wednesday and continue all day Wednesday.

Current data suggest this storm will depart the state early Thursday morning.

Confidence in timing: medium

There is high confidence and good data consensus that the bulk of this storm will occur on Wednesday. There is low confidence in how long the storm will linger over Colorado. There are differences between models in how quickly the storm moves out on Thursday. Watch for changes in this time frame.

Storm Track

One of the many reasons this storm is piquing our interest is that the storm track looks favorable for heavy snow in the front range. For eastern Colorado to get big snow totals, we usually need an upslope wind flow. Meaning winds are forced to move up due to terrain, which aids in precipitation formation.

Air flows counter-clockwise around a low-pressure center, and we want the north and east side of the low to bring easterly winds into Colorado. Easterly winds will run into the North-South oriented mountains and force the air to rise and dump snow over the I-25 corridor.

With all other ingredients in place, when the upper-level low-pressure center tracks over the four corners (nicknamed Four Corners Low), then Denver and northern Colorado usually get slammed. When the storm center tracks over Albuquerque (nicknamed Albuquerque Low), then southern Colorado gets the biggest snow.

At six days out, the agreement between models is actually decent. Usually, at this time frame, we see more discrepancies. But there is a fair agreement between different models and between each model run. And the storm track is favorable for upslope flow for the I-25 corridor.

However, there is a high likelihood that the forecast track will change in the coming days as the forecast is resolved with more detail and more observational data.

Confidence in storm track: medium

Watch for changes in the storm favoring areas south versus north. As the track wobbles between data updates, Denver and Colorado Springs will switch between who gets the most snow.

Storm Impacts

Model data today (Friday, Feb. 10) indicates a widespread 2-6" is possible across southern Colorado. Higher totals over 6 inches look less likely at this time but cannot be ruled out. Do not expect a snow accumulation forecast map from our team until about 2 or 3 days out. We would rather have a consistent forecast than be the first to put out a snow map.

Another important aspect of this storm to watch is the wind. Blizzard conditions are defined as frequent gusts or sustained wind of 35+ mph and visibility of less than a quarter mile due to blowing/falling snow for at least 3 hours. Blizzard conditions are possible with Wednesday's storm and it is an aspect of the forecast that we will be watching closely.

Confidence in storm impacts: low

The specific storm impacts, such as snow totals, wind speeds, and temperatures, are high-resolution details that are better discussed in the 1-3 day out timeframe.

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