How much should you be freaking out about the weekend’s snowstorm?
We asked an expert who says things like “operational weather forecasting models.”
Peter Bennett Goble sounds like a kid on Christmas morning.
Goble is excited because from where he and other weather-obsessives stand, Santa might come early this year. Goble is a service climatologist at the Colorado Climate Center at the Department of Atmospheric Science at Colorado State University. His research focuses on droughts, but he spends a lot of time looking at weather models. Lots of them. From all over the world. Based on the models he and his colleagues are watching, a perfect snowstorm is brewing that could dump 8 inches to 2 feet of snow on the Front Range this weekend.
But as with any good spring snowstorm in Colorado, there remains some uncertainty about where the storm will go and how much snow it’ll unload.
“There’s still some uncertainty about just how far north or south this storm track is going to go,” Goble said. “That has a big influence on the precipitation we receive on the Front Range. I am really excited. I won’t lie to you about that. But I’m also trying to remain stoic in the face of a lot of data and recognizing that four days out is plenty of time for things to change in terms of snow fall totals.”
How does a climatologist gauge the weather hype?
First of all, he says things like “operational weather forecasting models.” Those are the models weather people watch to assess the severity of a storm. Goble said many models exist around the world, but some of the most commonly used in the U.S. are the Global Forecast System out of the American-based National Weather Service, and European, Canadian and UK models. And they almost always disagree about a storm.
First of all, their starting conditions are different.
“Not all of them read the same weather observations,” Goble said.
They’re also all looking at a combination of surface readings and weather balloon and satellite observations and plugging in physics of the atmosphere. And “not all are built with the exact same physics. They’re based off the same general equations of motion, but they can have slight differences,” he said.
Pro tip: The Gulf of Mexico is one of “the best places to get moisture.”
That’s where this snowstorm is gathering its water. The Gulf is typically the source of a lot of Eastern storms, which explains why that side of the country is wetter than this one.
While it gathers its water, the storm is considering where to move. It’s likely, perhaps highly likely, that it’ll settle somewhere between the Nebraska panhandle and northern New Mexico, Goble said.
“The Front Range is drawing the long straw right now, where things look good for us,” he said.
Goble’s hopeful that the storm will ease drought conditions in certain parts of Colorado.
“The western side of the Continental Divide is likely to see some good snowfall totals, but it’s unlikely to make up long-term deficits,” he said. “Soil moisture and base flows entered the winter season at critically low levels, and current snowpack is trailing average values.
“However, I don’t expect this storm to be a drought buster in western Colorado.”
As for east of the Continental Divide, “not only is the amount of moisture in the forecast exciting, there’s nothing like a widespread snowstorm to replenish soils and set up the new growing season. We’ll have to wait and see just how much moisture we get, but there is potential for substantial improvement to our drought situation east of the Continental Divide.”
When should you start taking weather predictions seriously?
Now. Don’t hit the panic button yet, Goble said, but start mentally preparing for anywhere between 8 inches to 2 feet of snow. And don’t be disappointed if that map you saw on social media predicting 2 to 4 feet is wrong.
“Be careful with that hype,” Goble said. “A historic blizzard is possible, but we’re not going to crown it until measurements are in and people are sending Kyle Clark pictures of their patio furniture.”