A major concern is the potential for power outages on Friday nights when heavy, wet snow may cling to trees and power lines. The outage risk is particularly acute because of the presence of trees in the region, meaning branches will be more prone to snapping. Winds gusting up to 35 mph won’t help matters.
“[D]owned tree-branches and power outages will pose a significant threat, ”the National Weather Service in Boulder tweeted.
A heavy, wet snow will fall on Friday and Saturday with roughly 3-10 ”in metro Denver, 8-12” in the Palmer Divide & over 2 feet near the Continental Divide. Considering a leaf out branches, branches and power outages will pose a significant threat. #cowx pic.twitter.com/SWLMiwNIe9
– NWS Boulder (@NWSBoulder) May 19, 2022
In the higher elevations west of Denver, the potential exists for more than two feet of snow. The same fast-moving cold front brings the crashing temperatures and snow to Colorado is also sparking severe weather from the Upper Midwest to the southern Plains. Ahead of the front, heat record is surging toward the East Coast.
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Snow in Denver in mid- to late May is not unprecedented, but the predicted region could be historically significant.
“Basically, the last time we had significant snow in May, we had 5.1 [inches] in 2019 on the 21st, ”Frank Cooper, a meteorologist at the Weather Service in Boulder, said. “And before that goes into the 1930s and 1940s.”
It is noted that Denver is the largest late-season snowfall, 11.5 inches, August 20, 1931. terrain west of Denver.
“[A]recipe west of I-20 could see… quite a bit more snow, ”Cooper said. “In Denver we’re looking at that 3 to 5 inch range.”
The weather service in the region stressed that accumulating forecasts in Denver are “complicated” due to uncertainties and how much snow will fall and how much it will actually stick.
Fire threat and heat first
Before the first flakes fall, however, other hazards face the city, including the risk of wildfires.
The National Weather Service Storm Prediction Center has drawn much of the Southwest, including Denver, Las Vegas, Albuquerque and Colorado Springs. Developing low pressure in Colorado will induce 20 to 30 mph across the southern and central Rockies which, when added to relative humidity values below 25 percent, will turn the ambient environment into a tinder box.
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“Rapid fire spreads are possible,” the Storm Prediction Center wrote.
Temperatures will be unseasonably warm, peaking around 90 degrees Thursday. The average high this time of year is 72 or 73. If Denver manages to surpass 92 degrees, it will set a record for May 19.
By Thursday night, that same low pressure system will bring a strong cold front through the Rockies; it will push through Colorado late Thursday night, turning northeast and allowing temperature to plummet. Lows will dip into the lower 40s by early Friday morning, and readings will struggle to climb during the day. In fact, highs will end up just shy of 50 degrees. Light rain should arrive by early evening.
Frigid air pour into the Centennial State will flip over to snow in Denver by Friday night, with a few hours of moderate snow likely during the overnight. Most of the precipitation should wrap up by Saturday morning, but not before garnishing the High Plains with some flakes and shrouding areas in the Denver to Boulder metro beneath a blanket of white.
Colorado Springs, about 70 miles south of Denver on Interstate 25, could also see about 3 to 5 inches of snow. If that happens, it will mark the city’s latest 3-inch-plus snowfall ever observed, beating out the current record by five days.
Chilly weather will stick around in Denver through the weekend, with a gradual return to highs in the 80s by the middle of next week.