An “anomalous” blizzard setting up across northern El Paso County into Denver Wednesday is expected to plow through the state with the force of a category 1 or 2 hurricane, but it’s not quite the “bomb” some meteorologists have predicted, according to the National Weather Service in Pueblo.
The service issued a blizzard warning for El Paso County, including Colorado Springs, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesday, saying falling and blowing snow and strong winds gusting up to 70 mph will cause whiteout conditions and make travel unsafe. North of the city and up into Denver will remain under a blizzard warning into Thursday.
Some schools in the region are already closing Wednesday, including District 49.
The snowfall – up to 4 inches in the Springs, 10 inches in Monument and up to 16 inches in Teller County – coupled with wind speeds of 70 mph “or higher” is what led NWS meteorologist Klint Skelly to declare the storm “a pretty rare event.” He likened the conditions to a category 1 to 2 hurricane. Denver is also expected to get up to 9 inches of snow and the mountains might get 20.
The storm, he said, is drawing its strength from a low-pressure system moving out of Arizona – the lower the pressure, the stronger the storm. But it’s not quite at the threat level of a “bombogenesis,” commonly called a bomb cyclone.
The phenomenon just means a rapid intensification of a storm, which will happen Wednesday, but not to the extent of a bomb cyclone, he said.
To meet that threshold, the storm must drop at least 24 millibars, or units of pressure, over a 24 hour period. Currently, their models only show it dropping 15 millibars, Skelly said.
“It doesn’t meet the classification of a bombogenesis, but it’s still rapidly intensifying and anomalously strong,” Skelly said of the storm.
Still, the storm will challenge some of the lowest pressure readings ever recorded in the state.
The average pressure at sea level is 1013.25 millibars, but current models forecast pressure over the state as low as 975 millibars, according to The Colorado Climate Center.
Russ Schumacher, Colorado’s climatologist, said in a Tweet Wednesday that the lowest pressure he could find was 975.8 millibars out of La Junta in 1973. Official records to track low sea-level pressure aren’t kept, he said.
Since it’s come up: we don’t keep an ‘official’ low sea-level pressure record for CO…very few stations with long, reliable records. Maps from @DRmetwatch @NWSWPC show a 976.3 mb at Fort Collins, but no eastern plains stations included. Doing some browsing… (1/3) pic.twitter.com/cunf9jJy7t
— Russ Schumacher (@russ_schumacher) March 12, 2019
So what does this mean for the area?
Lots of wind.
Wind gusts up to 70 mph in Colorado Springs and even higher across the plains “could cause extensive tree damage” and is capable of overturning light weight, high profile vehicles, the National Weather Service in Pueblo reported.
The conditions will make travel “extremely dangerous,” the service said, recommending that motorists who “must travel” have a winter survival kit handy and stay with their vehicle if they do become stranded by the storm.
The “prolonged, potentially hazardous storm system” headed for the state could drop at least a half-foot of snow on the Pikes Peak region.
A winter storm watch has been issued for Teller County and much of El Paso County, including Colorado Springs, from noon Wednesday until 6 a.m. Thursday.
“Plan on slippery road conditions,” the watch says. “Areas of blowing snow could significantly reduce visibility. The hazardous conditions could impact the evening commute. Strong winds could cause power outages and tree damage.”
Teller County could see 6 to 16 inches of snow, “with locally higher amounts above timberline,” and winds as high as 50 mph.
“Plan on slick and snowpacked road conditions,” the watch says of Teller County. “Patchy blowing snow could significantly reduce visibility. The hazardous conditions could impact the evening commute.”
The blizzard warning for northern El Paso County, including the Monument area, also goes from noon Wednesday until 6 a.m. Thursday. In that area, expect up to 8 inches of snow, winds as high as 65 mph and “difficult to impossible travel conditions.”
Colorado Springs has a 60 percent chance of rain and thunderstorms Tuesday evening, increasing to an 80 percent chance of rain at night and into Wednesday morning, the weather service says.
Wednesday morning’s rain is expected to turn into snow by midday, accompanied by strong winds.
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