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Although the sun hasn’t officially set on Denver’s fourth season—flurries are expected Wednesday night—the chances of finishing this once-promising winter with above-average snowfall seem more and more unlikely. A couple of back-to-back, record-setting days in the mid-80s, plus a perfectly springlike weekend, probably have you forgetting that we were once on track for the snowiest winter since 2007.
The season started strong with roughly a foot of total snow or more reported during the months of November, December, and January in the Mile High City. (Compare that to its monthly averages: 7.4 inches in November, 8 inches in December, and 6.5 inches in January.) Persistent storminess and cloud cover during late fall and early winter led to cooler-than-normal ambient air temperatures, which meant that all that snow that fell wasn’t going anywhere fast. (Raise your hand if you’ve had a rutted ice block of death in a shady part of your street that went unplowed all winter.) For most of the season, it seemed like winter was shaping up to be one of the worst—or best, depending on how you look at it—in recent memory.
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But at no point this winter was Denver wildly above normal in terms of snowfall. At the start of the new year, the city had received only about 10 inches more snow than what is typical by then: 36.9 total inches compared to 27.1 total inches on average. Even with the numerous bouts of snow (we had 11 events of more than an inch through February), it was the frigid temps that made this winter feel the way it did to many. The average temperature between November and February was subfreezing: 30.2 degrees. It was the 10th-coldest November through February in the city’s weather records according to data from NOAA’s Regional Climate Centers.
Most notably, a very stubborn area of troughiness, or area of unsettled weather, persisted across much of the western United States. It produced numerous storms and atmospheric rivers that blasted onshore, blanketing much of the Rockies in snow. (Breckenridge, Vail, and all other major Colorado ski areas recorded above-average snowpacks and most even extended their rec seasons into May.) But after a few storms in February, those weather events stopped spilling into the Mile High City.
Unfortunately, that pattern has led to drought and fire conditions reemerging on the eastern plains over the last couple of months. Denver is now classified as abnormally dry.
The last major snow event occurred January 17 and 18 when Denverites saw 9.2 inches. Since then: dry as a bone. During the same time—mid-winter through early spring—Denver typically sees 28 inches of snow. That puts us roughly a foot and a half below-average if we end April without any more.
An average snow year in Denver yields 56.9 total inches. Today, we’re at 46.9. We haven’t seen a notably wet day (more than a quarter inch of precipitation) since that mid-January storm either, so without substantial rainfall this spring, we’re likely to trail normal precipitation patterns, too. (Year-to-date precipitation total is off by less than a quarter inch as of mid-April.) It’s not uncommon for Denver to make up ground in this area fast, so hopefully we don’t stay dry for too long—especially with the hot summer months ahead. The foothills west and south of Denver have already seen wildfires this year, and Kansas and Oklahoma are already experiencing exceptional drought.
So enjoy your Colorado spring, but maybe hope for rain.