A Rocky Mountain Storm. Part II: The Forest Blowdown over the West Slope of the Northern Colorado Mountains—Observations, Analysis, and Modeling

Michael P. Meyers NOAA/National Weather Service, Grand Junction, Colorado

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John S. Snook Colorado Research Associates, Boulder, Colorado

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Douglas A. Wesley Cooperative Program for Operational Meteorology, Education and Training, University Corporation for Atmospheric Research, Boulder, Colorado

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Gregory S. Poulos Colorado Research Associates, Boulder, Colorado

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Abstract

A devastating winter storm affected the Rocky Mountain states over the 3-day period of 24–26 October 1997. Blizzard conditions persisted over the foothills and adjoining plains from Wyoming to southern New Mexico, with maximum total snowfall amounts near 1.5 m. ( of this two-part paper describes the observations and modeling of this blizzard event.) During the morning of 25 October 1997, wind gusts in excess of 50 m s−1 were estimated west of the Continental Divide near Steamboat Springs in northern Colorado. These winds flattened approximately 5300 ha (13 000 acres) of old-growth forest in the Routt National Forest and Mount Zirkel Wilderness. Observations, analysis, and numerical modeling were used to examine the kinematics of this extreme event. A high-resolution, local-area model (the Regional Atmospheric Modeling System) was used to investigate the ability of a local model to capture the timing and strength of the windstorm and the aforementioned blizzard. Results indicated that a synergistic combination of strong cross-barrier easterly flow; very cold lower-tropospheric air over Colorado, which modified the stability profile; and the presence of a critical layer led to devastating downslope winds. The high-resolution simulations demonstrated the potential for accurately capturing mesoscale spatial and temporal features of a downslope windstorm more than 1 day in advance. These simulations were quasi forecast in nature, because a combination of two 48-h Eta Model forecasts were used to specify the lateral boundary conditions. Increased predictive detail of the windstorm was also found by decreasing the horizontal grid spacing from 5 to 1.67 km in the local-area model simulations.

Corresponding author address: Michael P. Meyers, National Weather Service, 792 Eagle Dr., Grand Junction, CO 81506. Email: mike.meyers@noaa.gov

Abstract

A devastating winter storm affected the Rocky Mountain states over the 3-day period of 24–26 October 1997. Blizzard conditions persisted over the foothills and adjoining plains from Wyoming to southern New Mexico, with maximum total snowfall amounts near 1.5 m. ( of this two-part paper describes the observations and modeling of this blizzard event.) During the morning of 25 October 1997, wind gusts in excess of 50 m s−1 were estimated west of the Continental Divide near Steamboat Springs in northern Colorado. These winds flattened approximately 5300 ha (13 000 acres) of old-growth forest in the Routt National Forest and Mount Zirkel Wilderness. Observations, analysis, and numerical modeling were used to examine the kinematics of this extreme event. A high-resolution, local-area model (the Regional Atmospheric Modeling System) was used to investigate the ability of a local model to capture the timing and strength of the windstorm and the aforementioned blizzard. Results indicated that a synergistic combination of strong cross-barrier easterly flow; very cold lower-tropospheric air over Colorado, which modified the stability profile; and the presence of a critical layer led to devastating downslope winds. The high-resolution simulations demonstrated the potential for accurately capturing mesoscale spatial and temporal features of a downslope windstorm more than 1 day in advance. These simulations were quasi forecast in nature, because a combination of two 48-h Eta Model forecasts were used to specify the lateral boundary conditions. Increased predictive detail of the windstorm was also found by decreasing the horizontal grid spacing from 5 to 1.67 km in the local-area model simulations.

Corresponding author address: Michael P. Meyers, National Weather Service, 792 Eagle Dr., Grand Junction, CO 81506. Email: mike.meyers@noaa.gov

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