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If the Denver snow season ended when the last impactful snow fell, back in mid-March, 2021–’22 would have been one of the shortest snow seasons on record in the Mile High City. That’s about to change.
A strengthening storm is heading our way, and due to several meteorological factors coming together at the right time (or the wrong time, depending on your point of view), we could see significant impacts in the Metro Denver region. The mercury nearly reached 90 degrees Fahrenheit on Thursday, but morning temperatures on Friday will only reach the 40s.
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There are a few factors behind this late May storm. The first is that it’s expected to deliver plenty of moisture, which we desperately need. On top of that, the jet stream—the river of fast-moving air flowing above us—is expected to add more lift into the atmosphere, and lift creates more moisture. Our topography allows for upslope winds, which also produce lift, and we’ll get some “jet-induced banding,” which is meteorologist-speak for enhanced areas of snowfall, as a result of heavy winds. Finally, because we’re so late in the season, we are experiencing a bit of convection, or rising heat, which can aid in the development of thunderstorms. If all of these factors come together, this storm could create pockets of very heavy snowfall.
That snow will begin to fall Friday morning in the foothills and mountains above 6,500 feet and it will continue at those elevations at varying intensities Friday and through early Saturday afternoon. Elevations below 6,500 feet will see cold rain in the morning. As a secondary surge of energy and more cold air filters in on Friday afternoon, the rain will become snow, which may last until Saturday afternoon. Road conditions in the metro region will deteriorate by Friday evening and will stay slick through Saturday since temperatures won’t get much above freezing.
Denver could get four to six inches of snow by Saturday afternoon. Fort Collins should get three to four inches of slushy snow. As soon as you head west or south of Denver, though, the totals will go way up. Rocky Mountain National Park may end up with near 30 inches of snow. The foothills from Estes Park to Evergreen are expecting between one and two feet of snow, and Colorado Springs will likely get more than a half-foot of snow from this storm. There is the possibility of colder air than expected arriving with this storm, in which case places like Denver could end up with higher totals than currently forecast.
A hard freeze is expected for both Saturday and Sunday mornings as temperatures plummet into the mid-20s, which would be a record for this time of year. In preparation, cover sensitive plants, unplug hoses, turn off irrigation systems, and turn off swamp coolers.
It takes three to four inches of heavy, wet snow like we’re expecting to break newly-leafed tree limbs. Be sure to not park under any freshly bloomed trees; they will hold the snow and possibly crack under the weight. This could in turn cause power outages, as well.
This storm is expected to deliver one to three inches of liquid precipitation, which would account for nearly 10 percent of Denver’s annual precipitation. This will help with the drought conditions, but it won’t be enough to completely eradicate it.
By Monday, the mercury will push back up to 60 degrees Fahrenheit. And, since it’s Denver, it won’t come as a surprise to anyone that we’ll see temperatures back in the 80s by next Thursday.
(Read more: 6 Soups That’ll Warm You Up on Snow Days)