[Editor's Note: OnTheSnow will feature a special question and answer section focusing weather starting today and extending each day through the end of January. OnTheSnow will take a question from a reader and present it to Colorado-based meteorologist Joel Gratz and post his answer on Facebook and OnTheSnow.com. Do you have a burning question you've always wanted to ask? Just post it in a comment here or on our Facebook page and we'll toss your name into the hat.]
We've had some warm snowstorms this winter in the Rockies. What's up? Global warming? Is the earth out of tilt? Am I doing an incorrect snow dance?
- Ivanna Coldstorm, Steamboat Springs, CO
Good question Ivanna, and I don't think you're doing your snow dance wrong at all. Usually the interior Rockies of the U.S. are known for their cold temperatures and light, fluffy snow. But occasionally even this stereotype isn't exactly true.
One warm storm in the middle of December and another one in the middle of January brought temperatures close to freezing (32F, 0C) as high as around 9,000 to 10,000ft, which is very high. And during the first storm, the dreaded "r' word (ra*n) was reported in the towns of Aspen, Vail, and Steamboat.
But don't worry - it's not global warming or a problem with the earth's tilt.
During these storms, the jet stream pointed straight from the Pacific Ocean and directly toward the Rockies. The graphic shows this area of fast-moving winds around 30,000ft in elevation. The colors show the wind speed, with the whites being the fastest speeds and the arrow pointing out the center of the jet stream.
When a jet stream points straight from the ocean toward the Rockies, warm oceanic air is easily transported inland quite a distance. At times, the latter part of a storm can be colder than the beginning of the storm and the ra*n could abate with snow falling in a fluffier form. But this doesn't always happen.
The colder storms more consistent with the Rockies stereotype are still around and there have been many this season. But the warm storms - while unwelcome - are perfectly normal and just something to live. Hopefully another one doesn't show up for quite some time!