Colorado's weather whiplash: From record heat to record cold snap and snowfall in 48 hours

Three days is shortest number of days between a 100-degree day and snowfall in Denver. The previous record was 38 days in 2019

Louise Boyle
New York
Friday 11 September 2020 17:30
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Fires sweep through Colorado

Colorado is used to wild variations in the weather but this past week was something of a first.

In Denver, it dropped from 93F on Monday to 32F and a snowstorm on Tuesday. While the National Weather Service (NWS) has recorded six other days since 1872 where the temperature dropped by 60 degrees in Mile High City, they all happened during winter months.

The 60-degree plummet also followed Denver hitting 101F on Saturday, a record for the latest point in the year to hit a 100-degree day, according to NWS.

Three days is also the shortest number of days between a 100-degree day and a measurable snowfall in Denver. The previous record was 38 days in 2019.

Scientists draw a direct line between extreme heat - which is a contributing factor in the intense wildfires currently ravaging the western US - and the climate crisis.

However, the pendulum swing from heatwave to extreme cold is “more complicated”, Russ Schumacher, director of the Colorado Climate Center and Colorado’s state climatologist, told KUNC on Wednesday. 

Dr Schumacher said: “There are potential reasons why these extreme shifts might become more common in a warmer climate. One being that essentially, we’ve built this huge dome of high pressure and heat over the West this summer, and if we go back to a roller-coaster analogy, what we may be doing is essentially making that roller coaster a little bit steeper, and thus when the low pressure systems that bring the cold air around it, might be diving down a steeper down-slope here into Colorado, and really increasing those rapid changes."

He added: "But this is an active research topic that a lot of people are looking at to try and understand what to expect from these kinds of shifts in a warmer climate. But the bigger story of the extreme heat across the West very much has a fingerprint of climate change on it."

One benefit of the sudden cold snap and snowfall, which fell up to 16 inches in places, is that it provided a brief respite for fire crews tackling the huge Cameron Peak wildfire, burning close to Fort Collins, and slowed its growth. 

Temperatures in the high seventies and dry conditions are forecast this weekend in the Denver area.

Wires contributed to this report

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