You know it’s bad, when the snowplow that is expected to keep our local roads cleared of snow ends up upside down in Boulder Creek. That’s what happened this morning around Nederland and Boulder, when a surprise snowstorm dumped almost a foot of snow in the area. Boulder Canyon shut down for several hours forcing my husband, Bryon, and many others to take a snow day off from work.
Just 24 hours ago, the forecast was for 1-2 inches of snow. Fast forward, and outside our house it looks like a winter wonderland, with around almost a foot of new snow. Such is life during winter in the Rocky Mountains. I don’t pretend to be a weather forecaster — if you want to know more about that, talk to my husband, Bryon, or consult the website of Joel Gratz of Opensnow. But after being married to a trained meteorologist for eight years, I feel I do have a little bit more of an understanding about the science of weather and just how difficult it is to predict.
Everyone’s heard the joke about how weather forecasters get paid to be right 50% of the time. I too retold the joke and criticized the weather forecasts when they were wrong on many occasions. But I don’t think I’ve ever lived in a place where weather can be so variable, and so difficult to predict as living here. Based on my limited knowledge I’ve gotten from my hubby, weather forecasts are based on models. There are four main models — the GFS, NAM, GEM and European model. They come out every six hours and when they all are showing the same thing, life is simple and forecasters can feel confident. The problem is here in Colorado, that never ever seems to happen. Even 12 hours before a snow storm is expected to hit the area, all the models produce entirely different forecasts showing something different and even more confounding, they change every six hours.
So, as people were going to bed last night in their home in Boulder, Denver, and Nederland, expecting a little bit of snow to fall, and instead woke up to several inches of snow and treacherous morning commutes on icy, snow-packed roads. Probably the only people who were feeling cheerful about this abrupt change of events were the skiers. At my home ski resort, Winter Park, where I work part-time, they got a really big surprise — almost 16 inches of new snow! The craziest part of that is that 10 inches of that fell over four hours, which is an incredible amount of snow rate at 2.5 inches per hour. Yay — can you say powder day?
The truth is, the weather here in Colorado is strangely complex. My experience over the last several years mimics Mark Twain’s saying about weather and climate:
Climate is what you expect, weather is what you get
And most of the time, we get something completely surprising, especially when it comes to our winter weather. Some of our biggest snow storms in Colorado’s history were completely unforecasted, with just a small amount of snow expected, and instead turned into 1-2 feet. One amazing ski day in March two years ago, Bryon and I were skiing at Winter Park, expecting a couple of inches of snow. By 4 p.m., over 18 inches had fallen, which had completely shut down US Highway 40 over Berthoud Pass when several avalanches and slid across the road. I still have vivid memories of the whoops and hollers of me and my fellow skiers as we skied through the trees amidst powder flying up into our faces.
The weather here really serves as a metaphor for living in the mountains in general. Expect the unexpected. You never know what life will bring you on any given day, so it’s best just to be adaptable and resilient, and just deal with or embrace what the weather or mountain living may bring you.