What a Big Storm Looks Like

Editor’s Note: This is the third column in a weekly series written by Meteorologist Joel Gratz that will take you “behind the scenes” of the typical weather forecast. Joel is the founder of ColoradoPowderForecast.com, where you can sign up for his email alerts.

Boulder, CO – No matter where you live, the “big storm” the moved across the U.S. this week affected you in some way. First a few impressive stats, and then I’ll look at how this storm affected skiers and riders.nWhat was so special about this storm?

  • Many feet of snow over four days in the Pacific Northwest, Wyoming, Utah, and Colorado.
  • The lowest pressure ever (yes, ever) recorded in the lower 48 states, not counting hurricane landfalls.
  • Twenty-four tornadoes on Tuesday.

If you want to know more weather details, see Dr. Jeff Masters’ post at Weather Underground. He also provided this picture:


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Visible satellite image of the October 26, 2010 superstorm taken at 5:32pm EDT. At the time, Bigfork, Minnesota was reporting the lowest pressure ever recorded in a U.S. non-coastal storm, 955 mb. Image credit: NASA/GSFC.

In general, storms occur to balance the earth’s energy. As cold air pools toward the poles and warm are hangs around the equator, storms try to balance this out by dragging cold air toward the equator and warm air toward the poles.

For people who like snow (you!), this generally means much warmer temperatures and even some rain ahead of the storm and very cold temperatures with good conditions for snow behind the storm.

This radar image from Tuesday, Oct. 26, shows this perfectly, as warm air (and therefore thunderstorms) race out ahead of the storm, and a very strong pull of cold air and Pacific moisture coat most of the western mountains in snowfall.


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Storm radar image from Oct. 26, 2010

While we likely won’t get another storm of this magnitude during the rest of the winter (or for years/decades to come), it sure was fun to watch this weather spectacle unfold. As for me personally, it made for my earliest powder day (18-24 inches) ever at Vail. I just wish they had turned the lifts on as that’s a big mountain to hike!

Joel first fell in love with weather and skiing at age four, and this passion for snow has not faded with age. After earning his Meteorology degree from Penn State in 2003 and a Masters from the University of Colorado in 2006, Joel started Colorado Powder Forecast out of Boulder, Colo., to help fellow snow lovers with accurate and entertaining weather forecasts.

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