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15 years ago today: One of Colorado’s worst blizzards in history

Wednesday, October 24th, 2012 6:23pm MDT
Satellite image taken on October 25, 1997 showing the 'perfect storm' that brought snow measured in feet to parts of Colorado.

Satellite image taken on October 25, 1997 showing the 'perfect storm' that brought snow measured in feet to parts of Colorado. Click for a larger view.

The National Weather Service describes the storm that hit Denver on October 24 and 25, 1997 as “one of the worst and deadliest blizzards of the decade.”  It would be hard to argue with that assessment as the history making storm dumped nearly 2 feet of snow on the Mile High City and cost tens of millions of dollars.

Below is the entry from our ‘this week in history’ entry from earlier this week that describes this major storm.  It truly was amazing.

  • H/T to Thornton resident William Scherer for reminding us of this anniversary.

From the National Weather Service:

In 1997…one of the worst and deadliest blizzards of the decade developed over eastern Colorado as deep east to northeast flow associated with a vigorous upper level low pressure system over the four corners…combined with a strong arctic air mass over the central great plains. Snowfall totals across metro Denver ranged from 14 to 31 inches. The heaviest snowfall occurred in the foothills west and southwest of Denver where 2 to 4 feet of snow were measured.

Sustained winds to 40 mph with gusts as high as 60 mph produced zero visibilities and extremely cold wind chill temperatures from 25 below to 40 below zero. Winds whipped the snow into drifts 4 to 10 feet deep.

Several major and interstate highways were closed as travel became impossible. Red Cross shelters were set up for hundreds of travelers who became stranded when they had to abandon their vehicles. Four people died in northeastern Colorado as a result of the blizzard. None of the deaths were in metro Denver.

At Denver International Airport…4 thousand travelers were stranded when the airport was forced to shut down. At least 120 cars were abandoned along Pena Blvd….the only arterial leading into and out of DIA. The blizzard cost air carriers at least 20 million dollars. Thousands of cattle died in the storm over northeastern Colorado…resulting in losses totaling 1.5 million dollars.

Some of the more impressive snowfall totals included: 51 inches at Coal Creek Canyon; 48 inches at Silver Spruce Ranch…near Ward; 42 inches at Intercanyon…in the foothills southwest of Denver; 37 inches at Sedalia; 35 inches at Aspen Springs and Conifer in the foothills west of Denver; 31 inches at Eldorado Springs… Southeast Aurora…and Englewood; and 30 inches on Table Mesa in Boulder. Snowfall totaled 21.9 inches at the site of the former Stapleton International Airport…setting a new 24-hour snowfall record of 19.1 inches for the month. Snowfall totaled only 14 inches at Denver International Airport where north winds gusted to 39 mph on the 24th.

High temperature of only 21 degrees on the 25th equaled the record low maximum for the date first set in 1873. Low temperature of only 3 degrees on the 26th set a new record minimum for the date.

8 Responses to “15 years ago today: One of Colorado’s worst blizzards in history”

  1. Teri Says:

    I was one of the 4,000 people stuck at the airport- for 3 days! I was on a shuttle from Laramie,Wyoming, hoping to get on my flight back to Portland,OR before it got too bad. As it was,we barely made it to the airport,only to find out most flights were already cancelled-including mine.I was traveling alone and pretty broke.Within 2 hours,all of the restaurants ran out of food and closed.I think it was the next day when the National Guard showed up with 80 or 90 sandwiches for 4,000 people!!I had money wired to me 3 times during those 3 days,and just hung out in the bar & drank beer.I also got interviewed by Good Morning America!But glad to get out when I did-I couldnt take one more night sleeping on those cold floors!!Unforgettable trip for sure!

  2. Robert Says:

    15 years ago? In ’97? That math doesn’t add up. What am I missing?

  3. Thornton Weather Says:

    Robert – If you look at the date of the post it says: Wednesday, October 24th, 2012 6:23pm MDT. 15 years. You most likely found this via our FaceBook posting about the event in which we said, “We wrote this a few years ago… It is now the 18th anniversary of what the National Weather Service called, “one of the worst and deadliest blizzards of the decade.” Do you remember it?”

  4. Marc Says:

    I remember it well and miss what October weather can bring to Denver.

  5. John Says:

    Fantastic storm. It was 80 degrees a day or 2 before that storm hit. I was hunkered down with the family on the east end of Colorado Springs. We got 38″ in 24 hours. That is now the benchmark that i judge all storms by. I now live on the east coast in north jersey and just came very close 4 days ago. Again in just a 24 hour period we received a whopping 33″. It was a close 2nd to the Oct 1997 storm in Colorado. It remains the benchmark for all storms!!

  6. Michael Says:

    As I recall, the forecast was 3-6″ of snow with no blizzard warning or high wind warning. Based on that, I drove from Westminster to Pueblo in the midst of the storm. From Denver to Colorado Springs, I-25 was just a skating rink. From Colorado Springs to Pueblo was total whiteout conditions. Total white-knuckle driving, even with 4WD!. I passed more jack-knifed semis and disabled cars than I could count. If I stopped to help, I knew I’d be stuck. Things were no better in the “banana belt” of Pueblo. Jack-knifed semis everywhere.

  7. Will Says:

    I was sitting at my home in Canon City, CO. I’d turn on the TV from time to time to watch the news. It was really bad all around Canon, but in Canon we only got about 3″. So the storm totally missed us. I do remember hearing about people getting stranded and dieing on there way to the Springs on highway 115 though.

  8. Kevin Says:

    I remember it. We had stopped at the store in Hugo on our way home, 10 miles from town. I had been watching the weather forecast and knew we had to get home immediately. I had commented that it looked like a band of rain will turn to snow and it will get bad quickly. It did and I spun out about 2 miles into the trip home. Had to leave my van in the ditch and get a ride from local deputy. I finally got my vehicle out several days later and the engine compartment was packed with snow. The neighbor lost a dozen cows in the creek nearby and other cattle were on the highway because they could walk right over the fences.

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