Colorado has recently endured a meteorological rollercoaster, whiplashing between record high temperatures and late-summer wildfires to a record cold snap and snowfall within a matter of days.
The National Weather Service (NWS) reports that Denver experienced temperatures of 38.3°C (101°F) on September 5 and 36.1°C (97°F) on September 6, a record high for September. Overall, it was one of the hottest Labor Day weekends ever seen in Colorado. However, this was closely followed up by a drop to -0.5°C (31°F) on September 8 and 9, which tied with previous record lows in September from 1962. They also received an ample sprinkling of snow on September 8 that turned into a snowstorm, making it the second earliest snowfall on record for Denver.
On top of this, Denver also broke the record for the shortest number of days between a 100-degree day and the first snowfall in Denver, with just three days separating the events. The previous record was 38 days, set in 2019.
If you want to see how acute this change is, look no further than the photo above taken on the afternoon of Monday, September 7 (on the left) and the morning of Tuesday, September 8 (right) by Scott Denning, a climate scientist and professor of atmospheric science at Colorado State University.
While Denver was still positively baking on September 5 and 6, the NWS followed up by warning: "A drastic change in the weather will occur Monday night and Tuesday, with record or near-record heat replaced by wintry conditions, snow, and record cold. Significant snow accumulations can be expected in the Front Range Mountains and Foothills, while the Denver metro area and I-25 Corridor may also see slushy, wet snowfall by early Tuesday morning."
Colorado is no stranger to sudden changes in weather. Apparently, there's an old joke here that goes something like: "If you don't like the weather here, wait 15 minutes.” The state’s unique geography contains both the soaring heights of the Rocky Mountains to the west and rolling flat plains in the east, which can have a somewhat unpredictable effect on wind patterns, pressure systems, and other forces that affect weather.
However, even by the standards of Colorado’s history of temperamental weather, this turnaround is especially quick.
Switching from summer to winter in a heartbeat might not sound too pleasant to some, but the sudden shift in weather was welcomed by many who were living in the shadows of Colorado’s ongoing wildfires. The Colorado Sun reported that 40 centimeters (16 inches) of snow fell on the Cameron Peak fire west of Fort Collins on Tuesday and helped to significantly slow down the fire’s growth.
Sheriff Justin Smith of Larimer County said that the downpour of snow offered firefights a welcome break from the relentless drought that was facing the state, although it was “certainly not going to stop this fire.”
“This fire is full of more surprises than we’ve ever seen,” Smith added. But then so, apparently, is the weather.