There is no doubt that 2020 was a turbulent year and if you’ve ever flown into Denver International on a windy winter day, you know what turbulence can feel like. Living in Colorado, we know that the weather is rather changeable and 2020 was no different. In case the weather headlines didn’t cross your cluttered feed this year, here is a list of the top 10 weather events that occurred across the state in 2020.
These are in no particular order but you may find a common theme by the time you finish reading.
Boulder’s Snowiest Season Ever
Let’s kick things off with an honorable mention since precipitation headlines were hard to come by in 2020. Boulder, CO normally averages 88.3 inches of snow per year. On April 17, 2020, Boulder picked up almost 17 inches of snow bringing their seasonal total to an astounding 152 inches! This is more than 5 feet above what they expect seasonally and was clearly enough to beat the old record set back in 1909.
The Rare Colorado Derecho
A derecho is a line of strong storms with damaging winds that holds its intensity for a very long time. You’ll typically find derechos in the midwest and eastern U.S. which makes this Colorado occurrence rare. What makes it even more rare was that this was the first derecho to impact Colorado in modern records. There were 91 reports of damaging winds in a single day which smashed the old record of 30 damaging wind reports back in May of 2006. The highest wind report we saw during the June derecho was 110 mph in Winter Park.
The Yuma Heat Burst
Colorado is known for its temperature swings but what happened in early July in Yuma, Colorado was different than the norm. A collapsing (or weakening) thunderstorm sent a plume of air down from the sky above. In meteorology, we call that adiabatic warming. The temperature in Yuma at 2:00 am was 68-degrees. At 4:00 am, the temperature rose to 88-degrees! And just two hours later, the temperature fell down to 64-degrees. Talk about whiplash.
Record Evaporation Rates on the Eastern Plains
Evaporation happens in the Dummer all the time. It’s just a part of the season. Evaporation can happen when it’s windy, when it’s warm and when there is a lack of humidity but what happened this summer was extreme. We were already in a drought so there was not much moisture in the ground and then we added in very hot temperatures and very windy conditions. This coupled with the lack of rain we saw allowed for any moisture in the ground to be quickly stripped away. This is one of the reasons the drought in Colorado got so bad so quickly.
Record Hot August
Heat in the middle of our hot months is not surprising but feeling record heat in the middle of our hot months is something to note. Statewide, August came in 4-degrees warmer than the normal temperature! There were close to 100 daily heat records that were broken and 9 monthly heat records broken across the state this month. August 2020 was the warmest August Colorado has ever felt.
Fire and Ice Within 48-hours
Alluding back to the epic temperature swings we see in Colorado, this one is a top contender not only in Colorado but across the entire country. Over Labor Day weekend, portions of Colorado, including Denver, saw temperatures approach and eclipse 100-degrees. Within 48-hours of the triple digit heat readings, several inches of snow covered the ground. The short distance between the heat and the accumulating snow set national records. There are only 3 weather stations in the country that have seen this type of weather change in this amount of time. Two of them are in Colorado and one of them is in South Dakota.
Rare September Snow
The snow that followed that heat wave was impressive but snow…in September? That’s something the Front Range hasn’t seen since 2000. Widespread snow fell across Denver downing trees that were still full with leaves. A foot and a half of snow fell in the high country making it one of the snowiest September storms to happen there as well.
Colorado is no stranger to drought conditions but for drought to cover the entire state at such intense levels is not normal. The drought in 2020 (lasting into 2021) is reminiscent of 2012 and 2002. A combination of early snowmelt, a dry Spring and Summer, no monsoon moisture, windy conditions and an eventual dry Fall led to 100-percent of Colorado experiencing moderate drought, 75-percent of the state in extreme drought and 25-percent of the state experiencing the highest and most impactful level of drought, exceptional.
Raging, massive wildfires
Like drought, temperature swings and weird, isolated weather happenings, Colorado is used to fires but the fires that blossomed in 2020 were on a different level. The Hayman fire that burned in 2002 was the state’s largest wildfire that charred 130,000 acres. A hard milestone to beat. In 2020, not one, not two but three wildfires eclipsed the acreage burned during the Hayman fire. The Pine Gulch Fire burned 139,000 acres. The East Troublesome Fire burned 193,000 acres and is the only known fire to jump over the continental divide. The Cameron Peak fire rose to 203,000 acres and will hopefully be the largest fire in the states history for years to come.
Top Ranking Warm Year
It’s no surprise that 2020 is one of the hottest years ever in Colorado. There were multiple months this year where Colorado felt heat that landed us in the top 10 ranks for monthly temperatures. When you combine all the months you’ll find that 2020 was our 7th warmest year on record.
Top Ranking Dry Year
When you look through the weather headlines for 2020, drought and heat stand out the most so it’s not surprising that 2020 ranks as one of the driest years ever in Colorado. The year ended with Colorado in third place for the driest years on record. At the end of 2020, 100-percent of the state is covered in drought. The first time this has happened since 2012. D4, the most extreme level of drought, was found to be a 1-in-50 to a 1-in-100 type of event and we ended 2020 with more than 25-percent of the state covered in D4 drought. This also marks the fourth time since the year 2000 that Colorado has felt the effects of D4 drought.
2020 has certainly been a tumultuous year and unfortunately we are entering 2021 with a major drought in place. Hopefully the weather gods will reward us with moisture and more average temperatures. Either way, there has never been a year where Colorado hasn’t seen wild weather headlines. Let’s just hope they stay as rare-meteorological events rather than life-altering and widely impactful events.