Dec 2, 2021 - News

Denver's warm fall weather is not an anomaly

Warmer-than-normal fall days in Denver per year
Data: Climate Central; Chart: Axios Visuals

Let's talk about the weather, as we love to do in Colorado.

Even if you daydream about snow, it's hard to deny that this fall ranked as one of the most beautiful in recent memory, and the continued warmth — like today's near-record temperatures — makes for great afternoon walks.

Why it matters: It's not all good.

For starters, mountain snow is the backbone of winter tourism — worth billions to the state's economy.

  • Fire season is lasting months longer than normal.
  • And Denver's water supply is largely snowpack melt.

State of play: Wednesday marked the start of meteorological winter and we finished fall without measurable snow for the first time since 1882 when record-keeping started, according to the National Weather Service.

  • We are even challenging the record for consecutive days without measurable snow.

By the numbers: Colorado is one of the states experiencing the greatest fall warming since 1970, according to Climate Central.

  • Temperatures on the Western Slope and in southeastern Colorado increased at least 3.5° in the last 50 years.
  • The average fall temperature in Denver increased 2.6°, and we are seeing 12 more fall days exceed normal levels than 50 years ago.
  • The current snowpack in Colorado is 35% to 85% of normal levels at higher elevations, OpenSnow meteorologist Joel Gratz reports.

The big picture: Climate change is driving temperature hikes and extreme variations across the country, Climate Central's experts say. About 95% of the 246 cities the organization analyzed — including three in Colorado — posted warmer temperatures from September through November since 1970.

What they're saying: "There are aspects of [this year] that might represent the future," Noah Molotch, a fellow at the University of Colorado Boulder Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research told Denverite.

  • "What we would expect is that more of our early winter and fall storms on the Front Range will come as rainfall and less so as snowfall."

The winter outlook: This year's La Niña weather system means less snow, and broadly temperatures are also rising.

  • In Colorado, average temperatures from December through February have increased 2° to 4° since 1970, Climate Central reports.
  • In Denver, winter temperatures have remained relatively steady since 1970 with an average of five days a year with colder-than-normal temperatures.

The bottom line: No snow is expected for Denver in the extended forecast, but the mountains could see needed flakes as early as next Tuesday.

This story first appeared in the Axios Denver newsletter, designed to help readers get smarter, faster on the most consequential news unfolding in their own backyard.


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