This year might seem like a wild weather year for Colorado (just look at these headlines: Bomb cyclone strands 1,000-plus drivers; Vehicles engulfed by avalanche on interstate; Drought 2nd worst in 124 years; High-altitude tornado destroys multiple homes; Mudslide closes I-70 exit; 16 inches of hail shuts down state park; Flooding prompts evacuation of homes; Lightning strikes multiple people at climbing area), but it’s nothing compared to the entire decade. The National Weather Service recently released a list of the 12 wildest weather moments from 2009 to 2019. They were voted on by the staff of the three National Weather Service branches in Colorado – Boulder, Pueblo and Grand Junction.
Here are the final results:
12. A rare ice storm occurs in Western Colorado (Jan. 9, 2017)
Roughly 4,600 people are left without power and 200-plus sent to the emergency room as a rare ice storm rolls through La Plata, Garfield, Routt and Mesa counties. Warmer air resulted in falling snow turning to rain before again freezing on the ground. As a result, a thick layer of ice coated seemingly everything, from sidewalks to tree limbs to automobiles. As you might guess, this caused a number of problems.
11. A tornado strikes in Berthoud, Colorado. (June 4, 2015)
The strongest tornado to strike Boulder and Larimer counties lands on the evening of June 4. Close to 30 homes are damaged and three are destroyed as this quarter-mile wide twister with wind speeds of up to 140 miles per hour charged down a six-mile path.
10. The heat wave of summer 2012
During the summer of 2012, triple-digit temperatures struck multiple times in many spots around Colorado, resulting in extreme drought. By October, the entire state was experiencing some level of drought, with much of the state in “extreme drought” or “exceptional drought.” This brought wildfire risk to a very high level. During this time, the infamous Waldo Canyon fire burned in Colorado Springs (June 23-July 10), destroying 346 homes and killing two.
9. Record-setting hailstones land in Bethune, Colorado. (Aug. 13, 2019)
At roughly 3 p.m. on the 13th, hailstones estimated at 5 inches in diameter pound Bethune in Kit Carson County. The hailstones were officially measured at 4.83 inches, making them the largest hailstones to ever be recorded in Colorado. To put that in perspective, a 4.5 inch diameter hailstone is estimated to be the size of a grapefruit.
8. The front range blizzard of 2016 (March 23, 2016)
Dumping more than 3 inches of snow per hour at times, the Front Range Blizzard of March 2016 is one that’s hard to forget. Big snow and winds gusting up to 50 miles per hour along I-25 made travel practically impossible with more than 30 inches dropping in some parts of the state. By the time all was said and done, at least 290,000 were left without power, around 2,000 cars had been trapped on I-25, and 1,300 flights were canceled with Denver International Airport (which shut down for the third time ever).
7. The hailstorms of 2018 (June 13, 18-19, 2018)
Three major hailstorms rolled through Colorado in the summer of 2018, resulting in approximately $620 million in damage. The first event occurred on June 13, dropping 3-inch hail across El Paso County. The second event hit Louisville, Colorado on June 18, dropping 3-inch hail during a thunderstorm. The third storm was perhaps the wildest, dropping 3-inch hail, generating a tornado, and causing flooding in the Denver metro area.
6. The 2013 wildfires
Two wildfires wreaked havoc in Colorado during the summer of 2013, including the West Fork Complex fire and the Black Forest Fire, likely a direct result of the aforementioned 2012 drought. The West Fork Complex fire consisted of three separate blazes totaling 121,806 acres, impacting 52 miles of forest roads and more than 100 miles of trails. The Black Forest Fire burnt a comparatively small 14,280 acres, but destroyed 511 homes, killed two people, caused $463 million in damage, and resulted in the evacuation of 38,000.
5. The avalanches of 2019
As massive snow totals started to accumulate in Colorado’s high country, this led to big problems. Multiple avalanches covered major roads around the state, including one that buried I-70 in up to six feet of snow. That shies in comparison to Red Mountain Pass mitigation that brought down 40 to 60 feet of snow on the road. During a two-week period, 1,000 avalanches were reported, 87 of which were considered D4 (out of 5, with 5 being the largest avalanche ever known). To put that in perspective, only 24 D4 avalanches occurred in Colorado from 2010 to 2018!
4. The second costliest hailstorm in United States history (May 8, 2017)
On May 8, 2017, a massive supercell thunderstorm resulted in large hail dropping in the Denver area, costing around $2.3 billion due to damages. More than 150,000 auto insurance claims were estimated to have been filed. The storm started dropping baseball-sized hailstones around 3 p.m..
3. The 2019 bomb cyclone
The result of pressure dropping to the lowest ever record in Colorado, the “bomb cyclone of 2019” produced wild winds and snow that brought the Front Range to a grinding halt. Gusts reached up to 100 miles per hour in certain parts of the state accompanied by one to three feet of snow (and 52 inches at Wolf Creek). Despite heavy news coverage beforehand, sunny skies prior to the storm led many to believe forecasters were off. As a result, many became stranded as they tried to commute home amid blizzard conditions. Roughly 5,000 passengers were stranded at DIA overnight, more than 1,000 drivers were stranded on the roads, and 445,000 people lacked power at one point. At least one fatality occurred.
2. The 2012 wildfires
The aforementioned severe drought of 2012 brought dangerous wildfire conditions with it, resulting in multiple blazes including Lower North Fork Fire, High Park Fire, and Waldo Canyon Fire. The Lower North Fork Fire killed three people, burnt 4,410 acres, and destroyed 23 homes. The High Park Fire killed one person, burnt 87,415 acres, and destroyed 259 homes. The Waldo Canyon Fire killed two, burnt 18,247 acres, and destroyed 347 homes resulting in $453.7 million in insurance claims – the second costliest in state history to the aforementioned Black Forest Fire.
1. The floods of September 2013 (Sept. 11-15, 2013)
Following days of consistent rain in Colorado, the Front Range was hit with torrential downpour on the night of Sept. 11 into Sept. 12. Rainfall continued over the next several days, resulting in major flooding problems. Twenty counties were affected, with floods resulting in nine deaths, 19,000 evacuations, $4 billion in damages, 2,006 homes destroyed, and more than 200 miles of road damaged. Up to 18 inches of rain fell across the Front Range in a matter of days with Fort Carson breaking the state record for rainfall in a 24-hour period at 11.85 inches. A few of the rivers most impacted included Big Thompson River, Cache la Poudre and St. Vrain Creek.