Two days after I spied wildflowers blooming, they are now buried under a foot of snow. That’s how quickly the weather can change during springtime in the Rockies. Strangely enough, many of our biggest snow storms in Nederland’s history have occurred in the months of March and April, and this year is no different. We are in the midst of the season’s biggest snow storm expected to last through Saturday morning, with snow totaling up to three feet. For those of you basking in 70 degree warmth right now, you may be asking, how is that possible?
Nederland sits at 8200 feet on the east side of the Continental Divide. In the middle of winter, most snow storms come out of the west and tend to dump the bulk of the snow on the west side of the Continental Divide in areas like Breckenridge, Winter Park, Vail. As the storms move up and over the Divide, the moisture is wrung out of them, so there is little left to snow where we live in Nederland. Some people refer to the dry side as being in the rain shadow — we are shadowed by the 13,000-foot mountains of the Indian Peaks Wilderness. In fact, the coldest months in the middle of winter (January, February) when you’d most expect snow in other parts of the country, are often our driest.
But when spring rolls around, we can often get upslope storms when the winds turn around and come out of the east. Moisture is pulled up from the Gulf of Mexico, and as those winds blow into and up the foothills and mountains east of divide, they start to dump copious amounts of snow. In the case of this snowstorm, the storm is nearly stationary, just cycling and pumping moisture up against the divide, and dropping around two inches of snow per hour. The storm has literally stalled, and this can lead to large amounts of snow falling over 2-3 days. We already have over a foot of snow that has fallen, and the National Weather Service is forecasting another 14 inches tonight, and possibly another foot tomorrow. (Update at 7 a.m., we now have two feet of snow, with 12 to 14 inches more snow expected today).
On the one hand, I’m always grateful for large amounts of snow and moisture in spring, because the more snow we get now, the less risk of wildfire in early summer. Plus, I happen to love snow, and love skiing, and this means another few days of skiing next week, which always makes me happy. But the flip side is, it makes it very difficult getting out of our neighborhood and getting down to Boulder to work. We live off a 1-lane private dirt road, that a local resident plows for us. Once the snow gets over two feet or so, he can no longer plow, because there is no place to put the snow, it just slides right back into the middle of the road. At that point, an excavator has to be brought in to remove the snow. And Boulder Canyon, with grades of up to 10% can became downright treacherous with buses, trucks and cars sliding every which way. Sometimes I just end up getting stuck behind a stuck car or bus for hours and have to just to turn around and wait it out at home or in Boulder.
Still, it’s exciting to see what Mother Nature can produce given the right conditions. And there’s something so breathtaking about seeing the snow-capped Rocky Mountains on the day after a huge snowstorm. After all, isn’t that the quintessential image that comes to mind when we think of Colorado?