STEAMBOAT SPRINGS, Colo. (CBS4) – There are weather observation stations all across Colorado, but one with a particularly nice view in Colorado’s high country is ideally situated for helping to better predict the severity of snowstorms.
The Storm Peak Laboratory on top of a mountain at Steamboat ski resort measures everything from wind, snow and moisture content to cloud condensation nuclei. It was shown off this week to the meteorologists at this week’s 22nd annual Weather Summit.
When a storm blows through, the meteorologists who work at the lab — many of whom live at the station on a temporary basis while they collect data — can consistently monitor the conditions before, during and after that storm.
Forecasters rely on stations like Storm Peak for updates on when storms are coming and how much of an impact they will have on their regions.
The small details about clouds the meteorologists study at the lab also provide meteorologists with a better understanding of how snowstorms actually work.
The size and shape of snowflakes are determined by temperature and moisture in the air. When small dust particles are present, it helps the small ice crystals form.
“Water freezes in the atmosphere at about -40 degrees unless it has some sort of surface to contact on,” Storm Peak staff member Dr. Gannet Hallar told CBS4.
The Storm Peak Lab is located at an elevation 10,500 feet. Since there aren’t many mountains to the west of Steamboat, it allows for an active climate zone and a good place for a weather lab.
“We have a really large fetch to the west so essentially it’s a long time for the air mass to build up moisture before it hits the park range, rises very quickly and creates a lot of snow here,” Hallar said.
Meteorologists from all over the country attend the summit. They include analysts and researchers who work at hurricane centers, fire weather specialists, snow forecasters and newscasters like CBS4’s Justin McHeffey, who took part in the summit.