Cold air likely to stay awhile

Daniel and Ruby Saxton bundled up for the cold as they waited for the doors to open at the Grand Valley Catholic Outreach Soup Kitchen on Wednesday. The couple came from Tulsa and were not prepared for the cold in Grand Junction. They had just visited the free clothing facility at the charity to find warm clothes.

The Grand Valley is paying a chilly price for the wonders of a white Christmas.

Cold air rolled in as snow fell the week before Christmas and again during a Christmas Eve storm. Since then, mounds of snow have continued to chill the Grand Valley floor and a lack of new weather fronts to push the cold air out of the valley have kept temperatures below 30 degrees since Dec. 19, according to meteorologist Joe Ramey with the National Weather Service in Grand Junction.

“We got a white Christmas, but that just helped cold air to pool in the valley bottom,” Ramey said.

Late December temperatures in the Grand Valley were some of the coldest of all of 2012. Five of the six days in 2012 when the low temperature dipped below zero degrees were in December, as were all 15 days of 2012 when the maximum temperature was below 32 degrees.

The lowest temperature last year was 5 below zero, recorded on Dec. 22. The local temperature dipped to 6 below zero on Wednesday morning.

As temperatures have declined, Sister Karen Bland said the number of people seeking a warm meal, warm clothes or assistance with utility or heating bills from Grand Valley Catholic Outreach has increased by about 10 percent in the last couple weeks. Bland, executive director of Catholic Outreach, said she usually sees an increase in people seeking services around this time of year.

“I think it’s due to the cold and economic situations. People get strapped (for cash) around the holidays,” Bland said.

The temperature inversion is likely to last until at least next Wednesday or Thursday, Ramey said, when a new storm and cold front may push out the inversion. Meanwhile, the inversion will allow for higher temperatures above the valley.

“As you climb up the edges of the valley, it can be a different regime. The cross-country (ski) trails on the Grand Mesa and Powderhorn are going to be great places to be this weekend,” Ramey said.

At 1 p.m. Wednesday, Mesa Lakes on Grand Mesa had a temperature of 20, two degrees above the temperature recorded at the same time at Grand Junction Regional Airport.

Despite its role in cold temperatures, December snowfall offered some benefits. Dec. 25, 28 and 31 tied for the greatest snow depth at 4 inches. December snow helped lift Grand Junction’s precipitation count for 2012 to 4.53 inches, knocking 2012 out of contention for the driest year on record in Grand Junction. Instead, 2012 ended up in third place, behind 3.64 inches of precipitation in 1900 and 4.41 inches of precipitation in 1956.

Snowpack at Mesa Lakes is 85 percent of the normal average and the rest of Colorado’s mountains are at 70 to 80 percent of regular snowpack. Ramey said it will take more snow and rain to get Grand Junction out of drought conditions.

“The drought is still severe to extreme,” he said. “We’re going to need a well above-normal snowpack year to break the drought.”


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