Cold Air Funnel and Sunlit Snowsowers

February 28, 2007, Sipapu and Espanola, NM

by John Farley

While skiing On February 28, 2007 at the Sipapu ski area near Vadito, NM (about 30 miles south of Taos), I observed what I am nearly certain was a cold air funnel under a cumulus cloud at the edge of a band of snow showers (actually, mostly virga, as most of it was not reaching the ground). At first I thought it might have been a jet condensation trail behind/above the cloud; it was a narrow white tube illuminated by the sun with blue sky behind. However, after a short time it became wavy and took on the appearance of a tornado or funnel cloud when it ropes out, and at this time it became clear that it was attached to the base of the cumulus cloud. I had a camera, but because 1) I was on a chairlift at the time and was afraid of dropping the camera or something else if I tried to get it out and 2) I was not sure what it was at first, figuring it was quite possibly a condensation trail, I did not get the camera out until I got off the chair. By then, the feature had dissipated. All told, it was only a minute or two from the time I first noticed it until it dissipated, and it never was anywhere close to the ground.

Assuming this is what I think it was, it is the first funnel I have ever seen associated with snow. However, if it was ever going to happen, this was the day, as the dynamics were quite intense. A jet max was going right over NM, and even at the surface, winds were 40-60 mph in many areas, with trees blown down on houses in Santa Fe.

Later on, driving back to Santa Fe from Sipapu, I got a couple interesting pictures of snowshowers over and moving out of the Jemez Mountains, with the snow being illuminated by the sun:

Although most of the snow when I was skiing was not reaching the ground, even in the higher elevations of the Sangre de Cristo mountains, the snow was reaching the ground in and near the Jemez, and later that evening and overnight, there was some accumulation in both ranges.