Wednesday, August 19, 2020

Riding the storm out in Colorado


Winter forecast from an informed, rank amateur  

By Rob Carrigan, 

It is time for my winter weather forecast. You are going to say, “Too early,” or something like “Killjoy,” but I like to still be in my shorts while making prognostications about open automobile ski season here on the Divide. I have been caught before. Ski Monument Hill. 

After all, I was still in my shorts in October, almost 20 years ago, the day before one of the worst storms in this area in human memory. In Palmer Lake, the storm that began Friday afternoon, Oct. 24, and snowed almost non-stop until Sunday morning Oct. 26, dropped a recorded 52 inches in Palmer Lake, with drifts of 15 feet. 

Monument was not far behind with 48 inches recorded, and Woodland Park’s and Colorado Spring’s two feet, each, made it difficult to get around. 

“The scope and length of blizzard conditions proved fatal for several eastern Coloradans. Three people in El Paso county perished from carbon monoxide poisoning after waiting for help to come in their snowbound vehicles for over 24 hours. Another person froze to death in a vehicle on post at Fort Carson in the Colorado Springs area. An elderly women in Otero County tried to walk home after her vehicle became stuck in open country. She froze to death. A man in Bent county froze to death in open country while hunting, or looking for other hunters. Another man died in a vehicle accident in Pueblo during the blizzard Friday night,” reported the National Weather Service (NOAA) in Pueblo. 

 “Many people were injured during the blizzard. Two people were injured in Colorado Springs when a canopy at a gas station collapsed under the weight of deep snow on top. Another canopy at a gas station in Lamar collapsed, but no one was injured. A vehicle was destroyed, though,” NOAA said. 

“Thousands of people were stranded in eastern Colorado, and hundreds had to be rescued from their snowbound vehicles. By Saturday, the Governor declared a State of Emergency. Emergency traffic only was allowed on eastern Colorado roadways. Rescues were made by the U.S. Army in Humvees and by helicopter, the National Guard, law enforcement, other public resources, and private citizens. The combination of high wind and heavy snow caused power lines to come down,” they reported. 

For hundreds of years, folks have had trouble pegging the weather here on the Divide. Partly because of the way the Orographic lift works for regions along the Palmer Divide, much as it does in all the mountains on the Continental Divide, just on a smaller (but surprising scale.) “One of the things that makes Colorado weather so interesting is the effect our terrain has on the weather. 

You often hear TV Meteorologists say the mountains are getting hammered with snow while we have a warm, dry, windy day down in Denver and along the front range. This all stems from Orographic Lift… the less nerdy/technical term for this is ‘upslope’ or ‘upslope flow.’ 

"As moisture laden air streams in from the West and is forced to rise over the mountains, it eventually cools and becomes saturated, causing rain or snow to fall. As the air moves over the mountains and down the leeward side it warms and drys out. This is a common pattern we see with Colorado storms moving in from the West all the time, but the same effect happens for cities along the Palmer Divide,” says Castle Rock stormchaser and meteorologist John R. Braddock, at Mountain Wave Weather. 

The Palmer Divide, or Palmer Ridge, of course is the elevated section of land composed of bluffs and ridges and the rising terrain sloping up from Castle Rock south toward Larkspur, with continuing elevation rise, finally peaking at Monument Hill. 

“It separates the Arkansas and Missouri River Basins in Eastern Colorado and roughly runs from its Western point in Palmer Lake, East roughly 80 miles to near Limon. The uplifting of the terrain in these areas causes the weather to behave differently, in fact storms can behave considerably differently from Denver to Castle Rock or Denver to Colorado Springs,” says Braddock. 

But what about this year, you ask? I am no expert, but I suggest you watch for slow-moving storms out of New Mexico. Winds moving backwards on the clock, or southeasterly, have trapped some mean storms against the Palmer Divide in my experience, sometimes for days. Albuquerque Low, I think they call it. I also pay attention to the long range forecasts from the Old Farmer’s Almanac. After all, you can’t survive since 1792, and be wrong consistently. 

Here is what they say for our upcoming weather. 

"Winter will be milder than normal in the north and colder than normal in the south, with slightly above-normal precipitation. The coldest periods will be in mid-December and early January and from late January into mid-February. Snowfall will be above normal in the north and below normal in the south, with the snowiest periods in early January, early to mid-February, and early March. April and May will be cooler than normal, with precipitation mostly above normal. Summer temps will be above normal in the north and below normal in the south, with the hottest spells in late June, mid- and late July, and mid-August. It will be drier than normal. September and October will have above-normal temperatures and below-normal precipitation."

The High Plains long range weather region includes all or part of the following states: COLORADO (Aurora, Colorado Springs, Denver, Fort Collins, Lakewood), KANSAS (Dodge City, Garden City, Liberal), MONTANA (Billings, Great Falls), NEBRASKA (Kearney, Lexington, North Platte, Scottsbluff), NEW MEXICO (Clovis, Portales), NORTH DAKOTA (Bismarck, Dickinson, Mandan, Minot, Williston), OKLAHOMA (Guymon), SOUTH DAKOTA (Pierre, Rapid City), TEXAS (Amarillo, Borger, Dumas, Hereford, Pampa), WYOMING (Casper, Cheyenne, Gillette, Sheridan).

 Storms over the years in Southeastern Colorado, and the Pikes Peak Region, compiled by the National Weather Service in Pueblo, are as follows:

1904 August 7 ...A flash flood north of Pueblo washed a train from the tracks, killing 89 passengers. Flood waters had weakened a bridge, which gave way under the weight of the train. 

1913 December 3-5 ... The granddaddy of blizzards reached from Cheyenne, Wyoming to Trinidad, Colorado with snow, and wind gusts to 50 mph. Snow drifts reached to the eaves on houses, and were as high as the tops of trolley cars. Numerous trains stalled at different locations in eastern Colorado due to the heavy snowfall. 

1921 June 3..Heavy rainfall causes flooding of the Arkansas river through Pueblo. Bridges and buildings washed out, many are homeless and many died in the deluge as the river reaches record levels as it roars through the city. A high water mark of the river can be seen on the Union Station depot. Estimated property damage and loss is $25 million dollars. 

1921 April 16... Spring storm reached from Colorado Springs to Castle Rock, dropping 15 to 20 inches of snow while Pueblo received less than 3 inches of snow. Cars and snow plows were stalled in the city, while numerous trains were stranded on their tracks across Eastern Colorado. 

1923 July 15...Thunderstorms and heavy rainfall causes flooding in Cripple Creek and Cripple Creek canyon. Damage estimated at 30 thousand dollars in Cripple Creek alone. 1932 June 11...Tornado touches down in Colorado Springs from 16th to 20th streets and as far south as Cucharras street. One person killed. 

1934 to 1937...The Dust Bowl years for Colorado and the midwest. Numerous farmers and cattlemen put out of business. Blowing dirt and dust over the region closed roads and made moving around and breathing hard. Many aircraft were grounded due to blowing dust, and radio communication was nearly impossible. 

1935 May 31.. Memorial Day flood on Monument Creek in Colorado Springs kills 18 people and washes away bridges and buildings in downtown. 

1949 May 15...Heavy afternoon thunderstorms and rainfall caused a landslide in Ute pass, sending about 400 tons of rock and mud down on highway 24. 

1955 May 18...Flooding on the Purgatoire river cuts Trinidad in half. Most bridges were washed out in the city, and 4 feet of water filled downtown Main St. Damage was estimated to be over 2 million dollars. This same flood also struck La Junta, doing extensive damage and forced many people from their homes. 

1965 June 15... First of 15 days of rain, causing flooding on Monument and Fountain Creeks. Several bridges, and part of the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo are washed out. A tornado and flooding developed over Palmer Lake where residents had been evacuated to Colorado Springs 

1966 July 3...A tornado moves through the Victor business district, damaging a garage, the Masonic Lodge building and a Baptist church. 

1977 March 19...Colorado Springs receives 13.4 inches of snow with winds gusting to 52 mph. East of the city, 82 mph winds were reported. The worst of the storm was from Colorado Springs to Limon. Army helicopters and half- tracks were used to recue stranded people. Five known dead, and $4 million in property loss and damage. 

1977 April 11...A tornado hits a Mobile Home Park on Astrozon Boulevard. Several homes were damaged but no deaths or injuries. 

1979 June 25... Manitou Springs hit by a tornado, uprooting trees downtown and took a roof off a service station. No deaths and only 1 person injured. Damage estimated to be close to 1 million dollars. 

1981 June 24...Thirty five acres of trees were leveled in Pike National Forest (North of Woodland Park) by a tornado. 

1982 December 24...Snow started falling in the early morning on Christmas Eve and continued until sunrise Christmas Day. Winds gusting to 45 mph kept visibility near zero most of the day. Snow plows were unable to keep up with the storm until the 25th, as snow drifts of 6 to 10 feet were common. Pueblo only received 2 inches of snow from the storm. 

1984 October 15-16...The BRONCO blizzard. Storm started while the Bronco's were playing on national TV. Denver received 1 to 3 feet of snow; only 15 inches in Colorado Springs and 1.4 inches at Pueblo. Winds gusted to 55 mph shutting down I-25 from Denver to Colorado Springs, and numerous flights in/out of Colorado Springs and Denver were canceled due to blowing and drifting snow. 

1987 January 15...Winter storm system arrives late on the 14th covering the area from Colorado Springs to Pueblo, and the surrounding area. Snowfall totals include: Colorado Springs 22 inches; Rye 42 inches; Colorado City 20 inches; Pueblo 9 inches; Canon City 10 inches. 

1990 February 21...Snow, fog and ice cause a 30 car demolition derby on I-25 from north of Colorado Springs to 4 miles north of Monument. No serious injuries, but the road was closed for several hours to clear up the mess. 

1990 May 29...A month's worth of rain and a foot of hail fall in a 3 hour period in Colorado Springs causing flash flooding. Cars stalled in up to 3 feet of water. 1990 June 6..Tornado's rip through Limon, destroying most of downtown including city hall, fire and police departments. Another tornado strikes Rush in eastern El Paso county. 

1990 July 11...Costliest hailstorm to date reaches from Colorado Springs to Denver, and causes over $600 million damage. 

1991 November 16-17...Winter storm arrives and leaves 16.6 inches on snow in Colorado Springs, 12.8 inches at Pueblo and 5.7 inches in Alamosa. Winds gusted to 50 mph at times. 1995 May 18..Three inches of rain in Colorado Springs causes flooding in the city while 18 inches of snow falls at Woodland Park. Heavy rain also causes a landslide closing highway 24 in Ute pass. Golf ball sized hail was noted at Falcon and Peyton, east of Colorado Springs. 

1995 June 22...Tornado damages 5 homes at Meadow Lakes Estates, east of Colorado Springs. 1996 July 27..Thunderstorms with heavy rain flood streets and basements as over 3 inches of rain fall over Colorado Springs. Flood waters are 3 feet deep in parts of the city. 

1997 June 7...Thunderstorms with heavy rain and hail cause 4 mud and rock slides closing highway 24 in Ute Pass, and much flooding in Manitou Springs. 

1997 October 14...Weather of all kinds over southeast Colorado. Tornado's in the southeast corner of the state. Thunder- storms and heavy rain in Pueblo and to the west of the city. Hailstones 2 3/4 inches at La Junta with softball size hail at Las Animas, snow at Cripple Creek, Black Forest and Monument. Winds of 100 mph reported at Liberty Point in Pueblo West and 98 mph at Kim in southeast Colorado. 

1997 October 24-26...Heavy snowfall over Monument and Palmer Lake with 52 inches of snow with 15 foot drifts in Palmer Lake, 48 inches of snow with 6 to 10 foot drifts in Monument. 

1997 November 29...Blizzard conditions force the closing of I-25 south of Pueblo as 27 inches of snow falls at Walsenburg. North of Pueblo, 19 inches of snow fell at Divide, 18 inches in Cripple Creek and 12 inches at Woodland Park. 

1998 June 24...Strong wind around the region damages many new homes under construction, and takes roofs off many other homes Winds blew over a semi-trailer on highway 115 to Canon City. Gusts to 80 mph at the Air Force Academy, 91 mph in Ute Pass and 96 mph at the Colorado Springs country club. 

1998 July 10...Severe thunderstorms moved over Colorado Springs starting grass fires, and a small funnel cloud tore a hole in the roof at Henry Elementary School. The school was closed at the time. 

1999 April 28-May 1...Strong thunderstorms roll across Colorado Springs, dropping 5 inches of rain at the airport, with up to 10 inches along the foothills. Heavy rainfall eroded the ground around a bridge at 21st St and Highway 24, causing it to be closed. Heavy rain and runoff in Fountain Creek resulted in the river being 6 feet above normal, and doing much damage along the river banks south of Colorado Springs. Many people homeless due to the flooding, and many more without power due to the storms. 

1999 July 30...Thunderstorms dump 3 to 4 inches of rain over Colorado Springs and El Paso county, causing street and basement flooding and forced cancellation of the county fair for the day. A group of teen-agers were stranded while hiking in Waldo Canyon. 

1999 November 21... An evening snowstorm drops 8 inches of snow at Monument, 10 inches in Manitou Springs, 17 inches at Green Mountains Falls before moving on. 

1999 December 3 ... Lots of snow and some records fall. Cuchara receives a record breaking 61.25 inches of snow, 32.4 inches at Rye, 10 inches of snow in the Black Forest and Woodland Park, 16 inches at Beulah as winds gust to 45 mph and higher in some areas. 


Photo Information:

Top: Blizzard of 1913 in downtown Monument.

Middle: Flood of 1921 in Pueblo.

Bottom: Colorado Springs area in a 1980 storm.


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