May in the Mile High City: Heavy snowfall forecast for Denver area
The calendar may read mid-May but parts of Colorado, including the Denver metro area, are under seige by a storm that would make winter proud. The 93-degree AccuWeather RealFeel® Temperature that roasted the Mile High City on Thursday was a distant memory by Friday night.
Winter storm watches and warnings were issued across a large section of Colorado and northward into Wyoming, and for good reason. AccuWeather meteorologists are calling for a total 3-6 inches of accumulation in Denver, while some places on the southern and western side of the Denver metro area could see as much as a foot of snow pile up by the time the storm winds down, enough to potentially result in widespread power outages.
Red flag warnings were in place for much of eastern Colorado on Thursday -- areas that are now under winter storm warnings, winter storm advisories and freeze warnings, showing just how changeable the spring weather can be in Colorado at this time of year.
A rush of cold air quickly brought an end to temperatures in the 70- to 90-degree range, and it also allowed rain to transition into accumulating snow from Montana to Colorado as a storm arrived from the Northwest.
Denver plummeted over 50 degrees from a high of 88 Thursday to 37 Friday morning. In fact, the temperature fell by 21 degrees in just 7 minutes between 7:37 p.m. and 7:44 p.m. MDT on Thursday evening when the cold front moved through Denver. Temperatures held nearly steady throughout the day but dipped to around freezing late Friday night as snow arrived in the area.
Other cities in the region will also challenge record lows. In Cheyenne, Wyoming, the record of 23 that has been in the books since 1882 may be rivaled early Saturday morning. There could also be a hard freeze in the area.
Thanks to some wind, rain and snow and AccuWeather RealFeel® Temperatures dipped well down into the 20s and even the teens at times.
Predicting the snowfall accumulation in this part of the country, and at this time of year, poses a number of challenges, AccuWeather Meteorologist Matt Benz said.
"There are variables such as the elevation differences in the region, duration and intensity of the snow, paved versus non-paved surfaces and the time of the day," Benz said.
During the middle to late spring, even at elevations of 5,000 feet above sea level or greater, sunshine goes a long way toward warming the ground and especially roads, parking lots and sidewalks. These surfaces tend to retain heat even after dark. Areas that are shaded from the sun will be much cooler than areas exposed to the sun and more likely to become slushy.
"Where the snow manages to come down hard for several hours late at night and first thing in the morning will be the places that pick up the greatest accumulation from the storm," Benz said.
A mixture of rain and wet snow transitioned to all snow Friday night around Denver, postponing the Major League Baseball game at Coors Field between the Colorado Rockies and New York Mets until Saturday afternoon.
At this time, AccuWeather meteorologists expect a general total of 3-6 inches of slushy snow to accumulate on non-paved surfaces in the areas immediately surrounding Denver, while the foothills to the west and the Palmer Divide to the south could pick up a foot or more on non-paved surfaces from Friday night to early Saturday.
"In the highest elevations of the east-facing slopes of the Colorado Front Range, a general 1-2 feet of may fall from the storm," AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Brett Anderson said. An AccuWeather Local StormMax™ of 36 inches of snow is foreseen over the high country.
As of Friday evening, some areas in Colorado already surpassed half-a-foot of snow, including Genesee, Colorado, which reported 11.4 inches. Winter Park and Crescent Village also reported snowfall totals over 6 inches.
As of early Saturday, snowfall reports in the Denver area were highly varied. While only 1 inch of snow had been reported at Denver International Airport, suburbs just west and south of downtown had reported 3 to 6 inches of slushy, wet snow. In the Colorado Springs area, a general 4 to 7 inches of snow had fallen.
While most of the snow will melt as it falls on paved surfaces in the lower elevations, some slushy conditions can develop in the foothills and over the Palmer Divide with slippery conditions and snow-covered roads possible over the passes in the mountains during Friday night and early Saturday.
Forecasters say the tree canopy is another factor to consider with midspring snowstorms.
"With trees leafing out in the lower and intermediate elevations, even a couple of inches of wet, clinging snow can cause problems ranging from limbs breaking to power outages and blocked roads," AccuWeather Senior Storm Warning Meteorologist William Clark said.
Some people could experience power outages. As of Saturday morning, roughly 24,000 had lost power in Colorado. Motorists that plan on being on the roads through Saturday morning may face hazards ranging from slippery conditions to fallen trees.
Snowfall is not uncommon in Colorado and the Denver area in May, forecasters say. The average snowfall for May in the Mile High City is 1.2 inches. The last storm to bring more than a few flakes of snow to the city was in 2019 when 3.7 inches of snow fell on May 20-21. In the Colorado Rockies, the average May snowfall ranges from several inches to a foot.
However, the transition back to winter will not be long-lasting. By the middle of next week, residents around Denver could be suffering from weather whiplash, as highs are forecast to settle back in the upper 60s by Wednesday. AccuWeather forecasters expect highs to then soar into the 80s and lower 90s heading into the Memorial Day weekend.
An average high for this time of year in Denver is 74 F.
The big wave of cooler air will keep flowing southeastward beyond the Rockies. Following highs in the 90s to near 100 much of this week, temperatures will tumble Friday night and Saturday across the southern Plains.
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