By Jennifer Gray, CNN meteorologist
The first significant snowstorm of the season is gearing up to impact portions of the Rockies this week.
After a lackluster season in 2020, any precipitation is needed, but the system could also be a dangerous one.
Portions of nearly every western state are under some sort of winter storm watch, warning or advisory.
“It’s definitely not a rare thing to be getting snowstorms in October, that’s when it starts becoming more likely to be getting snow. I know the average for Denver is October 18 for the first snowfall and it definitely varies depending on where you are in the mountain,” said NWS Boulder meteorologist Caitlyn Mensch.
Depending on elevation and location within the mountain range, the snow totals will vary from an inch or two, all the way up to 8-10 inches in the higher elevations during the Tuesday/Wednesday time frame.
It is a hopeful sign, as many locations in the West are suffering from extreme drought conditions.
“We are hoping to get more precipitation in the mountains going into this winter season, but a lot of that is going to depend on how the larger-scale systems set up, which is harder to tell farther out,” said Mensch.
In 2020, the Rockies received their first significant snow of the season as early as September 8, but did not have much of a showing afterward.
Many thought the snow season was a bust until an historic snowstorm in March brought many locations snow totals up to the normal range with a single snow event.
Denver saw 27 inches of snow in the March snowstorm, which broke records and proved anything can happen in the Rockies during the winter months.
“In Steamboat we have already had the first few dustings of the season and that got everyone really excited. But once the snow falls and starts falling and staying on the ground, that’s when people really start turning their focus to winter,” said Steamboat Springs communications director Loryn Duke.
Snow is not only crucial for groundwater, but for the nearly $5 billion economic impact it has on the state of Colorado alone.
“In the old days we used to say snow makes the phone ring and now we say snow makes the website visits spike. As soon as they hear there will be snow in Colorado, they will start looking into Steamboat and thinking about their ski vacations,” said Duke.
An industry also hit by the COVID pandemic is now bouncing back, after reinventing they way they do things in the new COVID world.
“One of the things we as a ski resort and a ski industry recognize is the importance of outdoor recreation for both physical health and mental health. To be in the wide open spaces and to breathe the fresh air, that was important. But to also free your mind of all the troubles that were going on and to be able to be immersed in nature, it’s such a reset and important for mental health,” said Duke.
We know an early snow does not always mean a good snow season. There are so many factors to determine if this will be a good snow year or not.
But with nearly 90% of the state of Colorado currently experiencing some sort of drought, like much of the west, they are rooting for a successful season.
“We have all the tools in our kit to assist mother nature and then once mother nature shows up, we are ready to welcome her,” said Duke.
Two systems to watch in the tropics
It’s been nearly a week since we have had a named system to watch in the Atlantic.
The National Hurricane Center is currently monitoring two areas in the Atlantic. Both have a slim chance of development over the next five days.
One is located about 350 miles east-southeast of the Windward Islands. The system will move west-northwest at about 15 mph during the next few days and inch closer to the Lesser Antilles.
“Strong upper-level winds are expected to limit further development on Tuesday,” said the National Hurricane Center (NHC). “Regardless of development, the system could produce locally heavy rainfall and gusty winds across portions of the central and northern Lesser Antilles on Tuesday, and across the Virgin Islands and Leeward Islands on Wednesday.”
This system has only a 20% chance of development during the next five days.
The other system we are watching is located over the Caribbean Sea and does not show many signs of life either.
“Environmental conditions are not expected to support development of this system for the next day or two,” said the NHC. “However, some gradual development is possible beginning on Wednesday when the system nears the southeastern Bahamas.”
The system will produce showers and storms across portions of the Lesser Antilles, Puerto Rico, and Hispaniola during the next couple of days.
At this point in the season, tropical systems will often flare up closer to home.
Areas around the Bahamas and just off the southeast coast of the US are prime locations for storm development. We also watch the Gulf of Mexico closely at this point in the season for storm potential.
The waters in these locations are still very warm and could support a storm, if something were to develop.
Tornado potential remains for the second straight day
A severe weather threat continues today after an active day Sunday across the Plains.
The first of two storms is tracking from the Plains into the Midwest today, with a level 2 of 5 risk for severe weather, covering more than 20 million people.
Areas of concern include Chicago, Indianapolis, Milwaukee and St Louis. The main threat will be damaging winds, but a few tornadoes are also likely.
A new and stronger storm will move into the Plains tomorrow and again increase the threat for severe weather through the Plains, where some locations are already under a level 3 of 5 risk for severe weather and tornadoes.
The main threat for the systems will be for portions of Oklahoma and much of central Kansas.
We could see periods of torrential rainfall and hail. Very gusty winds will also be a threat, with the possibility of isolated tornadoes.
More than a dozen tornadoes were reported Sunday. Most of them occurred in Oklahoma, with a few reported in extreme southwest Missouri.
Those areas will be surveyed this week to confirm whether they were actual tornadoes or straight-line winds. It will also be determined how strong the tornadoes were.
California’s fire potential is growing this week
More than 45 million people are under wind alerts today, where wind gusts of more than 55 mph are possible.
Strong winds and dry conditions in California will lead to level 2 of 3 critical fire danger.
Red flag warnings cover much of California, where new fires could develop today. There are currently 11 active large fires burning across the state.
Little to no rain is forecast this week, so dry conditions will prevail. Windy conditions will only make fire conditions worse.
Portions of the San Joaquin Valley in California will experience winds gusting to 45 mph, where the KNP Complex fire is burning in Sequoia National Park.
The fire has already destroyed many of California’s iconic sequoia trees, burned more than 87,000 acres, and is 30% contained.
Antarctica’s last 6 months were the coldest on record
In a year of extreme heat, Antarctica’s last six months were the coldest on record.
For the entire Antarctic continent, the winter of 2021 was the second-coldest on record, with the “temperature for June, July, and August 3.4 degrees Celsius (6.1 degrees Fahrenheit) lower than the 1981 to 2010 average at -62.9 degrees Celsius (-81.2 degrees Fahrenheit),” according to a new report from the National Snow and Ice Data Center.
“This is the second-coldest winter (June-July-August months) on record, behind only 2004 in the 60-year weather record at Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station,” the NSIDC said.
Lava blocks the size of buildings falling from La Palma volcano
The La Palma volcano continues to erupt three weeks after the initial eruption. The volcano is now releasing lava rocks the size of three-story buildings. More than 6,000 people are now displaced, and the volcano has destroyed more than 1,100 structures.
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CNN meteorologists Allison Chinchar and Dave Hennen contributed to this weather column.