Amid record-setting snowfall in northern Europe this winter and blizzards on the U.S. East Coast, one place that normally sees its fair share of snow has been left high and dry. The Mile High City is facing a snow drought of near record proportions having thus far experienced its worst snow season in 122 years.
Denver’s snow season is from July through June and through the end of December Denver has recorded a mere 4.8 inches of snow. The majority of that (3.3 inches) was received from a pre-New Year’s storm on December 30th. Here in Thornton we have fared a mere 0.1 inch more snow for a total of 4.9 inches.
On average the city sees 25.6 inches from July through December and the pitiful show so far gives the 2010 to 2011 season a 20.8 inch snow deficit to date. Only one other time in the 128 years that snow records have been kept in Denver has so little snow been recorded to this point in the season.
One has to look back to the 1888 to 1889 season to find a more dismal snow season. It was that season 122 years ago that 3.8 inches of snow had been recorded by the end of December. The next worst season up to December was two seasons later when 5.5 inches was recorded.
Setting the stage for drought conditions and a tinder dry spring and summer?
The Climate Prediction Center’s outlook holds little hope. With moderate drought conditions now in place for eastern Colorado, the most recent drought forecast calls for that to continue through at least March.
The Denver office of the National Weather Service latest winter outlook continues to point to La Nina conditions as the reason for the lack of moisture. Their research indicates that in most La Nina years like we are experiencing now the mountains receive plenty of snow but the plains remain dry.
Hopefully it isn’t an omen of things to come but the National Weather Service recently released its list of the top 10 weather events of the past decade.
Number five on that list was the 2002 drought – a year in which snowfall was also very minimal. The third most significant event was the 2002 “Summer of Fire” which brought Colorado’s most destructive wildfire on record – the Hayman Fire. Several other major fires burned that summer and the outbreak can be directly attributed to the drought.
One thing that may save us from a disastrous spring and summer is that we had a near-normal snow season last year and precipitation during the summer was average. Further, while the Front Range has been dry the mountains to the west have received a great deal of snow.
All basins are currently at or above normal with five of the seven measuring snowpack of 121% above normal or greater. Ski areas have had absolutely nothing to complain about this season and are seeing conditions better than they have had in years.
For Denver, one big storm or a couple of moderate ones could easily wipe out this snowfall deficit. Denver has its first and third snowiest months of the season yet to come (March and April respectively) so all hope is not lost.