Thirty-four degrees and blustery
Gusts snatched winter-brown leaves, tossing them high in the air. Against a gray sky, the Wasatch Range looked flat, like painted stage scenery. The wind carried a whiff of snow; a storm front was pushing in from the Northwest.
Airborne leaves, like confetti, are exhilarating and festive. They billowed overhead, a collage of mountain clouds and shadows behind. The dogs’ ears stood straight back, windsocks in the brewing storm. Visibility south across the valley was 25 miles or more in the scoured air.
Polar Jet Stream
The Wasatch Range forms the western edge of the Rockies and the eastern boundary of Salt Lake City. The city’s official elevation is 4226 feet above sea level at the airport, with peaks east of the city soaring as high 9400 feet from the valley floor. My house sits at about 4800 feet in the northern foothills.
Storm fronts announce themselves in this part of the world. Prevailing winds, the jet stream and mountains influence Salt Lake’s weather. But the most powerful forces in winter are the Pacific Ocean and the Great Salt Lake (GSL).
Vast storms move in from the Pacific, riding the polar jet stream down from the Northwest. Changes in air masses and barometric pressures as the cold storm fronts approach pull warm air up from the Desert Southwest. In Salt Lake southerly winds follow, often called the “warm before the storm”.
Pacific storms lose moisture as they ride the jet stream over the Cascades and Sierra Nevada, only to siphon up water over the GSL. Newly invigorated, the storm fronts collide with the Wasatch, heaping drifts in our mountains…at least in wet years.
We got home from our walk. Dogs slurped water, I made coffee. The wind died down in late evening, the temperature dropped 18ºF and clouds lowered. By morning, six inches of snow covered the yard and snowflakes were swirling. Like confetti.