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Environment / Sustainability

Fort Collins snowfall already at a record pace, state climatologist says

December 7, 2009

Nolan Doesken, state climatologist at Colorado State University, and Wendy Ryan, research associate, at the Colorado Climate Center, Department of Atmospheric Science, report on the snowy, early winter in Fort Collins.

Students play in the snow near Braiden Hall in late October. Photo by CSU Photography.

As of 7 a.m. Monday morning, the historic Fort Collins weather station on the campus of Colorado State University has totaled 44.2" of snowfall so far this season with five full months of the snow season still ahead.

October snowiest on record

October 2009 was the snowiest October on record for Fort Collins which got the year off to this huge start. The 9.8" of "fluff" recorded this weekend helped keep up the pace.

The average snowfall through the end of December is 23.5" so even if no more snow falls this month, the Campus Weather Station would still be 20.7" above the 30-year average (1971-2000) at the end of this month.

Comparing to the past 10 snowfall seasons (2000 means the Sept. 1999 - June 2000 snowfall season), even if it snows no more all winter, Fort Collins has already received more snow than in 6 out of the past 10 winters. Only the 2002-2003 winter with the incredible 32" March 17-19 storm was substantially higher than this year.

Year / Seasonal Total

2000       39.4
2001       56
2002       44.1
2003       71.6
2004       29.1
2005       54.6
2006       26.9
2007       56.5
2008       38.1
2009       38.1
2010       44.2

Historic winter

Based on historic records, only 2 other winters since 1889 had more snow by the end of December than we've had so far this year. Those were 1979-1980 and 1985-1986. In most years, the majority of the year's snowfall occurs after Jan. 1.

Year / Water Year Snowfall thru Dec.

Students walk toward the Clark Building earlier this year. Photo by CSU Photography.

1980          54.9
1986          50.7
2010          44.2
1914          41.8
2007          40.2
1974          38.4
1984          35.1
1917          33.5
1972          33.3
1926          33

Unusual winter so far

Compared to past years, this is the most snow to have fallen on or before December 7th. Back in December 1913, we had a huge December snow blitz with 36" from Dec. 1-5 . . . but relatively little snow fell before or after that storm. In other words, this is an unusual winter so far. This year, every storm (and there haven't actually been that many yet) seems to take aim on Fort Collins.

Water Year / Seasonal Snowfall through Dec. 7

2009-2010          43.8
1913-1914          37.5
1979-1980          34.2
1984                   32.1
1986                   32
1972                   30.5
1993                   30.1
1947                   28.8
1974                   28.8
1973                   28

Here is the list of our 5 snowiest winters. We've still got a long way to go, but at the rate we're going we could end up in this group -- especially of the storm materializes tomorrow.

Water Year / Seasonal Total

1979-1980               114
1987-1988                 89.4
1983-1984                 83.5
1916-1917                 82.2
1908-1909                 79.9

Impacts have not yet been severe

More fun in the snow! Photo by CSU Photography.

Poudre School District has had 2 snow days with the October storm and CSU was closed for a few hours (school closings are a big deal), but city streets were passable most of the time.

Sunday and Monday roads had some snowpack, but the snow was so fluffy (low density -- i.e. not that much water per inch of snow) that it was fairly easy to navigate even the side streets.

Dec. snows tend to stick around

It is worth saying that December snows tend to stick around. The days are too short, temperatures too cold, and the angle of the sun too low in the sky to rapidly melt snow this time of year. The snow we have on the ground now is likely to stick around. Also, when there is snow on the ground our temperatures tend to consistently stay several degrees colder than they are when the ground is bare.

This means we are likely on our way to a cold December and above average heating bills. Only major bouts of Chinook winds are effective at removing December and January snowcover. So far this winter, strong downslope winds have been few.

More snow than most other places in Colo.

As of today, we have had more snow than most other places in Colorado this winter including some of the ski resort towns (that will likely change this week). Only south and west Denver and some of the Front Range foothills and the crest of the Continental Divide has received more snow than Fort Collins so far this winter.


Contact: Emily Wilmsen
E-mail: Emily.Wilmsen@colostate.edu
Phone: (970) 491-2336