The West Is About to Get Blasted With Snow

A series of storms could make a dent in the snow drought that has gripped the West to start winter. While they won’t end the longer-term megadrought by any means, they at least should get ski lifts turning, provide some nourishment to parched soils, and up the odds of a White Christmas.

Winter storm watches and warnings stretch from Arizona to Minnesota as a powerful system is set to streak across the region. The snow began on Thursday and will intensify on Friday, fed by moisture from the Pacific and a dip in the jet stream that has sent storms screaming into the Pacific Northwest so far this winter.

In the mountains of Colorado, up to 2 feet (60 centimeters) of snow could fall. Snow is also expected in Denver. The city broke an 87-year-old record for the latest first snowfall in November. Snow could also dust other locations currently lacking, including the mountains near Salt Lake City and the Sierra Nevada in California. Those locations will likely see lighter totals than Colorado, but any snow there is good snow.

The National Weather Service is warning of dangerous travel conditions, saying that once the storm hits the Plains driving “could be very difficult to impossible” due to snow cover. In parts of Colorado, the agency also issued avalanche warnings. “Heavy snow and strong winds will result in numerous natural avalanches on Thursday night,” forecasters wrote. “Very dangerous avalanche conditions continue into Friday with human-triggered avalanches very likely.”

Dangerous conditions aside, the storm will be a relief in terms of bringing needed moisture to the region. While the Pacific Northwest has received a fair share of precipitation since the wet season began last month, the rest of the West hasn’t been so lucky. Comparing this year to 2020 — which was a roughly average year for Colorado and some parts of the interior West — shows a huge early-season deficit. Satellite imagery shows mountain peaks with patchy coverage and valleys with at least a dusting usually on the ground are completely bare. Ski areas have been hit hard as well, only opening runs where snowmaking equipment is in place.

Sentinel-2 satellite images showing Taos Ski Valley in December 2020 (heavy snow cover) and December 2021 (largely bare). (Gif: Brian Kahn/Sentinel Hub)Sentinel-2 satellite images showing Taos Ski Valley…