Can you say, “Snow Levels?” I thought you could…

Topo Map

A topographic map of our area…although the contour lines don’t show up well in this image, elevations where most of us live range from 7100 feet above sea level to 8000 feet. That could be a big factor for Thursday night through Friday evening.

12-22-21: 2:15 pm update…

At Stevens Field the high so far today has been 39 degrees so far and the low this morning was 9 degrees. There has been zero precipitation over the past 24 hours.

As of this post time, there is a Winter Storm Warning in effect for elevations above 9000 feet. For those of us at around 8000 feet, our apps and NWS forecast links will alert us as if we are also in a Winter Storm Warning, but for now it’s only for 9000 feet and up. This certainly applies to Wolf Creek Pass, however the NWS office in Pueblo, CO has only issued a Winter Storm Watch for Wolf Creek Pass…more confusion!

Here is the warning:

Winter Storm Warning issued December 22nd by NWS Grand Junction CO * WHAT…Heavy snow expected mainly above 9000 feet. Total snow accumulations of 12 to 18 inches with localized amounts of 2 feet. Winds gusting as high as 50 mph. * WHERE…Elkhead and Park Mountains, West Elk and Sawatch Mountains, Flat Tops and Southwest San Juan Mountains. * WHEN…From 11 AM Thursday to 11 AM MST Saturday. * IMPACTS…Travel could be very difficult to impossible. Patchy blowing snow could significantly reduce visibility, especially on ridge tops. Gusty winds could bring down tree branches.

High pressure continues to rule our weather today with temperatures running around 40 for today’s highs. Clouds will be moving in from the SW over the next 24 hours.

We are still looking at the same setup with a trough forming off California and our upper-level winds switching to SW, ushering in lots of moisture in the mid-levels of our atmosphere. There will be two troughs moving through…one on Friday night and one on Sunday morning. Before the first trough arrives on Friday night, snow levels could climb to 8000 feet Thursday night through Friday. This is where it gets tricky to forecast snow amounts for Pagosa Springs. Within our town, there is basically a 500-1000 foot difference between downtown (elevation 7100) and where many of us live (7500-8000 feet). Normally by late December snow levels are not something we talk about…this is usually a topic for fall and spring, but this system is unusually wet and warm.

First let’s talk about the precipitation…as of this post, the NWS is predicting 1.4 inches of precipitation for Pagosa Springs and 2.5 inches for Wolf Creek through Christmas. Using a 10-1 typical snow ratio, that should be 14 inches for Pagosa Springs and 25 inches for Wolf Creek. However, with snow levels drifting up to nearly 8000 feet on Friday, a good percentage of the moisture “may” fall as rain instead of snow for those of you living closer to 7000 feet. By Friday night the first trough should move through and snow levels will once again return to below 7000 feet, making this an all snow event from that point through next week.

Screenshot 2021 12 22 124352
Here is the latest 3 day precipitation forecast from the NWS (ends on Christmas Day. Circled are Pagosa Springs, Wolf Creek and Chama, NM. With a normal system, you would simply do a 10-1 snow ratio to determine how much snow will fall, but with this being a warm system through Friday night, snow amounts may be less for elevations closer to 7000 feet (downtown Pagosa Springs).
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Here is the latest 3 day snowfall forecast from the NWS (ends on Christmas Day. Circled are Pagosa Springs, Wolf Creek and Chama, NM. As you can see, the NWS thinks that downtown Pagosa Springs will only see 4 inches of snow because of the high snow levels forecast through Friday night.

Most of the models are not predicting such low snow totals for Pagosa Springs, however, these models are based on the airport’s elevation of 7600 feet! Below are some current model predictions…as you can see they are pretty close in their forecast.

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The latest GFS model run is predicting almost 2 feet of snow for Pagosa Springs through Sunday.
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The latest Euro model run is predicting almost 20 inches of snow for Pagosa Springs through Sunday.

As I wrote yesterday, our mountains are higher than the valley so snow levels of even 8000 feet will not be a factor at Wolf Creek. Conditions at Wolf Creek Pass will begin to deteriorate quickly by Thursday late afternoon with snow beginning late in the afternoon and ramping up Thursday night. Winds are forecast to gust to near 50mph along with heavy snow through at least Sunday. Check out the links mentioned in the next paragraph for road conditions, etc. The latest model runs are now forecasting up to 30 or more inches of snow for our mountains through Sunday.

A few disclaimers and thoughts for any of you who will be traveling to Pagosa Springs this week via plane, vehicle, walking, biking etc. First of all, we are flattered that you read our forecasts and follow our page, but please remember that when it comes to making travel decisions, we can’t help you due to many reasons, including legal ones. Fortunately, we have travel resources on our website found on the WebCams page to keep you up to date on road conditions and closures, current weather as viewed on cams and flight information from the Durango airport. Remember that the Durango airport gets less snow than Pagosa Springs so even if conditions are bad here, they may not be as bad at the airport. We also can’t issue Winter Storm Warnings or Winter Weather Advisories…that is the responsibility of the NWS. Even if we think there will be the potential for a blizzard in 48 hours, we have to wait until the NWS actually issues a watch or warning before we can post such a warning on our site.

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A low pressure and trough to the west of Northern CA will slowly dive SE over the next couple of days. As that occurs, moisture in the mid-levels will switch to the SW and usher in very moist air into our area. Precipitable water will be running very much above normal values for this time of the year.

My forecast…

For those of you who like to “hear” our forecast, we are currently experimenting with a “dial up and text” forecast. Call 877-841-0247 and give it a try! Let us know what you think…

Tonight: Turning mostly cloudy with lows in the teens. Winds will be light out of the SW 5-10 mph.

Thursday: Cloudy with highs in low to mid 40’s. A slight chance for rain-snow during the afternoon. Winds will generally be out of the SW 5-10 mph.

Thursday Night-Sunday: A mix of snow and rain on Thursday night for Pagosa Springs, but mainly snow for elevations 7500-8000 feet. Lows will only drop to the upper 20’s on Thursday night. Friday will be see a mix of rain-snow all day for Pagosa Springs with highs in the upper 30’s and lows in the upper 20’s. For those of us living at around 7500-8000 feet, look for mostly snow with highs only reaching the low to mid 30’s. Snow-rain will continue for Pagosa Springs through midnight, then change to all snow as a cold front (trough) moves through and snow levels drop. We could see winds gusting to 30-35mph as the trough moves through. Christmas Day and Sunday will see snow continuing with lows in the 20’s and highs in the mid 30’s.

Snow totals:

Thursday during the day: 0-1/2 inch for Pagosa Springs, 1/2-1 inch for 7500-8000 feet and 1-2 inches for the mountains.

Thursday night (mainly after 9pm)-Christmas morning: 5-10 inches for Pagosa Springs, 10-15 inches for 7500-8000 feet and 15-25 inches for the mountains.

Christmas Day:  2-4 inches for Pagosa Springs and surrounding areas and 4-8 inches for the mountains.

Sunday of next week: 2-4 inches for Pagosa Springs and surrounding areas and 4-8 inches for the mountains.

Monday-Wednesday: Continued snow chances for our area each day, ramping up again towards the middle of next week. By New Year’s we could be looking at a total of 3-4 feet total for Pagosa Springs and double that for the mountains!

-Mark Langford

Check out my Pagosa Peak Cam (myearthcam.com) for watching hikers, bikers and of course, the weather.

Pagosa Springs historical data for November 8th.

Average HighRecord High / YearAverage LowRecord Low / Year
3757/ 19063-30/ 1949

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This website makes no guarantees about nor bears any responsibility or liability concerning the accuracy or timeliness of the weather information published on this website. All weather information published on this website is for educational and weather enthusiast purposes only. We do not issue Storm Watches, Warnings or Advisories as that ability falls with the National Weather Service, who is the only institution allowed to issue such warnings by law. We are not in any way linked nor affiliated with the National Weather Service, although we do share information and relay weather watches/ warnings, etc. Use of the information on page is at your own risk/discretion, and we are not responsible for any personal/property damages, injury or death associated with weather forecasts, reports or other information as well as communication exchanged in private messages and/or person.

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