It’s been a while since Colorado had a decent snowstorm blow across the state. Remember back before Halloween when there was record cold and snow? The big October storms had us excited about the approaching season, but then weeks of dry weather ensued. In fact, that dry weather pushed parts of Colorado into severe drought, but an incoming weather system might offer some relief this week.

Although Colorado was lush and wet early this summer, drought conditions have been slowly creeping into the state since July, particularly in the southern and western portions of the state. For areas with severe drought, we not only could see fire season extended, but also an overall lack of snowpack going forward—which means surface water levels could drop and river flows could be reduced. In order to counteract something like this, we need healthy moisture for an extended period of time.

The map above shows the current snowpack and how it compares to normal. Much of northern Colorado is above-normal for snowpack so far this season, but the southern half of the state is struggling because most of our storms have tracked too far away from those areas of the state.

However, the upcoming storm system is taking a different path than other storms we’ve seen this season. Instead of coming from the northwest (think Western Canada or the Northern Rockies), this storm is coming from the Southwest (think Southern California and the Baja of California), and storms coming from this direction tend to have a higher moisture content due to the direct source of water from the Pacific Ocean. Projections suggest this storm will bring some much-needed snow to southwest Colorado.

Expect the snow to begin in southwest Colorado by late Tuesday night, the heaviest of which will fall in bursts throughout the region. The mountains will likely pick up between 2 and 12 inches or more by Wednesday night but this storm isn’t just a one-day event. There are two chunks of energy that will phase together and will produce snow from Wednesday through Friday morning. Total snow from this longer-duration weather event is expected to top more than two feet in some areas.

While higher accumulation is expected to the southwest, the Front Range won’t escape this storm system. Denver residents should expect a light dusting on Thursday morning, but by Friday evening, the city could have 2 to 5 inches on the ground.

The impending storm is great news for ski areas like Wolf Creek, which opened on Halloween and has been operating on weekends. Telluride and Purgatory—both of which are planning to open by Thanksgiving—will also benefit from this storm, while other ski areas across the state will get some additional accumulation, as well.

In other weather news, it looks like we are at the beginning of a cycle of snowy weather. Looking at longer-range models, three to four more storm systems could impact the state between now and the first week of December. That bodes well for powder days, but probably not for Thanksgiving travelers. Of course, the snow will be accompanied by several blasts of cold air—we’re talking highs and lows running 5 to 20 degrees below average. Bundle up!

Andy Stein
Andy Stein
Andy Stein is a freelance meteorologist with experience working on both local and national television.