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Boulder County Chances to See White Christmas ‘almost Nil’

December 19, 2018
Isaiah Woodworth, no shirt necessary on another mild day as Christmas looms, casts a long shadow Tuesday while skating at Scott Carpenter Park in Boulder.

Boulder County residents hoping for a white Christmas will almost certainly be disappointed, but weather watchers can keep an eye on a winter system expected to arrive about the time people are cleaning up their holiday wrapping paper.

The probability for the area to experience a white Christmas is “almost nil,” said Nezette Rydell, meteorologist in charge at the National Weather Service in Boulder. But, she added in an email, “the weather pattern is changing and we are expecting a winter system to arrive next week,” if not Christmas night then certainly Dec. 26.

The warm and dry weather pattern Boulder County has experienced recently will continue into Christmas Day. Predominantly high pressure has been aloft over Colorado for more than a week, and as waves in the pattern have moved across the state, they’ve been relatively weak. When they’ve brought colder temperatures, there’s been little to no surface moisture to work with.

That will change next week, though, as a winter system approaches from the west, Rydell said. One or two models are optimistic about good snow, but most do not show as robust a system.

This month through Dec. 17, the average high has been 46.1 at the Boulder Municipal Airport, with an average low of 24.1. Normal values for December are about 45 and 21 respectively. About 0.20 total inches of water have fallen through Dec. 17, with three inches of snow, which is only slightly below normal.

In the last 30 years, Denver has received measurable snowfall on seven Christmas Days, or 23 percent, according to the National Weather Service. Sixteen Christmas Days in the last 30 years, or 53 percent, have had at least one inch of snow on the ground.

According to an AccuWeather news release: “Most of the storms that have the potential to put down heavy snow in the days leading up to Christmas will roll in from the Pacific Ocean and blast the Cascades, Sierra Nevada and parts of the Rockies.”

The mountains and ski resorts, meanwhile, have had a snowy start to the season.

“The mountains are able to tap Pacific moisture coming in on the westerly flow,” Rydell said. “By the time the storm system gets here, it’s downslope and dry and we miss out if there is no surface moisture on the east slopes.”

To date, Eldora has had 77 inches of natural snow, as well as conditions ripe for snowmaking. That allowed the resort to have its earliest opening in more two decades.

The resort is in a dry spell right now, said Eldora spokesman Sam Bass, but the season’s start has been much stronger than last year. More terrain is open than this time last year, and conditions have generally been more favorable.

“We’ve been absolutely thrilled with the way the weather has helped us this year, both in terms of natural snowfall and cold temperatures,” Bass said.

Justin Burger, owner of Crystal Ski Shop, said the store has seen a marked increase in customer traffic over last year at the same date, to the tune of 40 percent.

“It’s been busy,” Burger said. “We’ve definitely seen the positive effects of that.”

He attributed the busier-than-usual customer traffic both to the good snow and to the increasing interest in snowshoeing, cross country skiing and other backcountry recreating.

“There’s really an interest in enjoying the winter outside of the lift-service resorts,” he said, adding that people are seeking the peaceful solitude, avoiding the increasing cost of lift tickets and responding to the industry’s increased focus on selling better equipment for the activities.

“The interest is there,” Burger said. “And people are doing a lot more of that every season.”

The warm and dry weather of late in Boulder County has not dissuaded customers, he said. Equipment has gone quickly, and the shop has seen more early-season tourists than usual.

“They’re saying, ‘Let’s go skiing,’” manager Alex Phillips said.

Cassa Niedringhaus: 303-473-1106, cniedringhaus@dailycamera.com

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