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Ranking the top 10 Colorado weather events of the past 10 years

Friday, December 31st, 2010 6:18am MDT
The March 2003 blizzard that buried Thornton in snow was ranked as the top weather event of the past 10 years. (ThorntonWeather.com)

The March 2003 blizzard that buried Thornton in snow was ranked as the top weather event of the past 10 years. (ThorntonWeather.com)

There is a lot that can be said about the weather in Colorado but ‘boring’ is not usually a term associated with it.  Anyone who has lived in the Centennial State for very long quickly experiences a weather-related event that will give them memories for a lifetime. 

From major snowstorms and blizzards to tornadoes, wildfires, scorching heat and damaging hail storms Colorado weather can and does bring it all to the table.  The Denver office of the National Weather Service has released a list of what local meteorologists rank as the top 10 weather events of the past 10 years.

For some it may be a blizzard that buried the Mile High City in a heavy blanket of snow and brought everything to a standstill.  Others will remember the heavy smoke from fires burning in the mountains destroying hundreds of thousands of acres.  The tragedy tornadoes bring to Colorado in terms of destruction and loss of life may be what others remember.

Over the past 10 years many memorable weather events have occurred that fully display the sheer variety of weather Colorado receives.  A team of meteorologists serving Colorado analyzed these events and ranked them based on meteorological intensity and their human and economic impact.

Their top 10 list is below.  Also be sure to check out the Examiner.com slideshow with images of each of the events.  What are you memories of these events?  What is your most memorable weather event?  Leave a comment below and let us know.

Slideshow: Top ten Colorado weather events from 2001 - 2010 From the National Weather Service:

1. March Blizzard of 2003, March 17-19, 2003.  According to the Denver mayor, this storm is the storm of the century, a back breaker, a record breaker, a roof breaker.  Denver experienced the snowiest march in its history, and the storm broke a streak of 19 consecutive months of below normal precipitation in Denver.  The foothills and Palmer Divide received 3 to 8 feet of snow, with 2 to 3 feet in the urban corridor and metro Denver.  Denver International Airport was closed, as was Interstate 70 in both directions from Denver, and hundreds of roofs collapsed due to the weight of the snow. 

2. Christmas Blizzards of 2006, December 20-21 and December 28-30 2006. Mother Nature delivered a one-two punch as large slow moving storms dropped heavy snow along with strong winds to produce blizzard conditions on the plains.  Total cost of lost revenue, snow removal and livestock losses for both storms was estimated in the tens of millions of dollars.  The residual effects of the storms included huge ruts on local streets in the Denver metro area for weeks, and the heavy snowpack created an extremely cold winter into early spring followed by a flood threat over southeast Colorado. More from Examiner on the Christmas Blizzards of 2006.

3. 2002 Summer of Fire, as a result of record dryness from early spring through the summer of 2002, dozens of wildfires erupted across the state during the late spring and summer.  In June during the height of the fire activity, the governor of Colorado pronounced, it looks as if all of Colorado is burning today,

The fires scorched hundreds of thousands of acres, with costs in the millions of dollars.  Some of these fires included Trinidad Complex, the Hayman Fire, southwest of Denver which set a record as the largest fire in the history of Colorado, the Missionary Ridge Fire northeast of Durango, the Million Fire south of South Fork, and the Mount Zirkel Complex Fire, north of Steamboat Springs. 

4. The Windsor Tornado, May 22, 2008. In the late morning a powerful tornado raced north northwest for 39 miles across Weld County before moving into eastern Larimer County.  Damage was extensive in eastern Windsor and west of Greeley.  One person was killed at the Missile Silo Campground and there were 78 injuries. 

The tornado was rated EF3 on the Enhanced Fujita Scale due to the extent of damage near the Missile Silo Campground.  With insured damages reaching 147 million dollars, this was the fourth costliest disaster for Colorado.  More on the Windsor Tornado (Examiner.com).

5. 2002 Drought, Denver experienced 19 consecutive months of below normal precipitation, much of the state shared in the dry conditions.  In April 2002, the governor requested a statewide emergency drought declaration from the U.S. Agricultural Secretary. At the end of that month the snowpack in the South Platte River basin was 44 percent, other basins were even lower.  The dry conditions directly set the stage for the 2002 summer of fire. 

6. Holly Tornado, March 28, 2007.  A large tornado developed just south of Holly in Prowers County and moved north at 50 mph, into Kiowa County.  In holly, the tornado produced ef3 damage, with 200 structures in the town heavily damaged or destroyed.   The tornado remained on the ground for 28 miles.  Two people were killed, the first tornado fatalities in Colorado since 1960. 

7. 4 Mile Fire, September 5-13, 2010.  A wildfire spread rapidly,fanned by erratic 45 mph wind gusts, burning 3500 acres the first day, with a final tally of 6181 scorched acres.  The fire became the most destructive fire in Colorado history, destroying 171 homes and an estimated cost of 217 million dollars in damage.   Coverage from Examiner.com on the Fourmile Canyon Fire.

8. Northwest Metro Area Hailstorm, July 20, 2009.  After a clear evening, a severe thunderstorm developed rapidly over the northwest Denver metro area, tracking southeast across Arvada, Wheat Ridge, and Lakewood.  Downburst wind gusts to 80 mph combined with golfball hail produced damages of 350 million dollars to homes and cars.  As many as ninety thousand homes and businesses lost power.   Examiner.com coverage of the July 2009 hailstorm.

9. DIA Hailstorm, June 21, 2001. A severe hailstorm tracked across Denver International Airport and the town of Watkins, dropping golfball to baseball sized hail.  Planes and a ground surveillance radar were damaged at the airport, while 200 people were left homeless when the same storm moved through a mobile home park in Watkins.  State Farm Insurance estimated the hailstorm caused nearly 17 million dollars in damages.

Two events were tied for 10th.

10.  Ellicott Tornado, May 28, 2001.  Microbursts and tornadoes raged across eastern El Paso County that evening.  One tornado destroyed nearly half of the junior-senior high school.  Nearly 100 mobile homes, some occupied, were destroyed. 

10. July 2005 Heat Wave, in Denver from the 19th to the 23rd the high temperature each day climbed above 100 degrees, with a high of 105 degrees on the 20th which tied the all time record high temperature for Denver. In the month there were 7 new record maximum temperatures at Denver and 4 new record maximum temperature records at both pueblo and Colorado Springs.  Pueblo had 20 days of 90 degrees or higher, and 12 days of 100 or higher.

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