Wednesday, December 17th 2014
Snow has fallen on Christmas Day just 18 times in 132 years of record keeping
With such a warm and dry to start the month of December, a white Christmas has been feeling more and more out of reach with each passing day. As we discussed earlier this week in the State of the Atmosphere, the last part of December certainly looks colder than the start, but what snow may accompany that cold remains trickier to pin down. We see two systems over the next week which will have at least a chance to bring some measurable snow to northeast Colorado by Christmas Day.
In a typical year, odds are about 38% for Denver to have at least 1” of snow on the ground for Christmas, with just a 14% chance we see snow fall on the day. With only spotty snow on the ground currently across much of the metro area, we'll be dependent on the two upcoming systems to deliver if we're going to have a white Christmas this year.
A quick check on the season so far is a dismal one. Denver has only recorded 4 inches at Denver International Airport where official records are kept, whereas “normal” is greater than a foot by now. This slow of a snow season (to date with 4” or less) has only happened 23 other times for Denver since 1882. In only one of those years (1982/83) did the season bring above average snowfall by spring, just a handful had near average, and the rest were significantly snow-less. Years like this one average 15” less than average by the end of the snow season, where 57.5” is considered our average. While last weekend’s snow brought several inches of snow to some on the eastern Plains, Denver International Airport (where official records are kept) only recorded a Trace.
Here's more from the folks at the Boulder office of the National Weather Service:
On the other hand, if a white Christmas means having measurable snowfall (0.1 inch or more) on Christmas Day, then the odds drop to about 14 percent (18 days in 132 years) since 1882.
Taking a closer look at recent statistics for the last 30 years, Denver has received measurable snowfall on 5 Christmas Days, or 17 percent. Meanwhile, if we look at Christmas Days with 1 inch or more of snow on the ground, then 15 of the last 30 years (and 6 out of the last 8) have been a white Christmas, or 50 percent.
The most snow ever recorded on the ground in Denver on Christmas Day was 24 inches which was measured after the Christmas Eve blizzard of 1982. Other significant Christmas snow depths include the following:
5 Greatest Snow Depths on Christmas since 1900
The heaviest snowfall on Christmas Day was 7.8 inches which occurred in 2007 and the second most was 6.4 inches recorded in 1894.
***Do keep in mind that the official site for Denver snowfall has changed over the years.
Denver International Airport (2008-Present), Denver Stapleton Airport (1950-2007), 19th & Stout (1916-1949), 16th & Larimer (1882-1915).
In recent years we've done well with snowfall around Christmas. While in 2013 Denver recorded no snowfall or snow on the ground on the 25th, 2012 featured 2" and 2011 featured 3" of snow on the ground. The last time we had significant snowfall on Christmas day as in 2007, when 7.8" of snow was recorded.
With many of you traveling, and many more hoping for a white Christmas next week, we’ll be offering many updates in the days to come for what looks like a relatively active weather week across Colorado, and the United States.
We'll leave you with a snowy picture from Snowmass over this last weekend, more mountain snow on the way through the coming week!
Tuesday, December 16th 2014
Our weekend storm is now well east of Colorado, and our weather, while cooler than last week, has calmed down. Our snowfall forecast, for the most part, worked out pretty well with what was a complex system. The biggest issue was not coming far enough west with the heaviest band of snowfall across the eastern plains. Around the metro area, snowfall totals from just a trace (DIA) to 4” (southeast Aurora) were common, with very little snow reported across the northern I-25 urban corridor. Denver proper saw about 0.5” of snow, with a Bust Index of 5.
Here’s a look at our final snowfall map Saturday night, with CoCoRaHS reports below. Overall not a bad forecast, and a great snow for northeast Colorado.
Another interesting aspect of this system was the incredibly low Snow Water Equivalent (SWE), at 12:1 and lower across much of the metro. This is very uncharacteristic of a December snow, and even on the low end for a Spring snow. This, you’ll recall, was another concern we outlined last week for snow accumulation potential in Denver.
Remainder of the week
The remainder of the week will feature more December-like temperatures than what we experienced over much of the first half of the month. Highs will be in the 30s and 40s through the weekend. There will be another chance for snow Thursday, but the threat for accumulating snow looks very low at this point. Plan for chilly temperatures and about a 20% chance for snow late Wednesday night through Thursday.
Second half of December
Beyond this week our pattern remains interesting enough to keep an eye on, but nothing convincing with regard to snow. The 12z EURO yesterday showed a good Christmas Eve storm, while other medium range models are dry. While the storm track continues, the latest trend is to keep much of the energy too far south over the next 10 days to bring any appreciable snowfall to northeast Colorado. However, the pattern shift that is to take place for the last part of the month is certainly a lot colder than what we’ve had for most of the month. It has to do with a ridge of high pressure strengthening in the North Pacific and over Alaska. When that happens, cold air usually gets sent southward. Per the latest WMO ECMWF model, you can see that trend happening. Reds equal higher pressure and quieter/warmer weather, while the blues and greens equal lower pressure and general storminess and colder weather:
Notice that all of that orange, red, and white near Alaska? That is a classic signal for cold air to dump into most of the US -- and similar to the pattern that brought record cold to our neck of the woods in mid-November.
The various teleconnections support this trend too.
While the Arctic Oscillation isn’t projected to be terribly negative, the EPO and PNA support much colder air and general storminess impacting parts of the western US. This is a similar pattern to what happened with our big cold shot in early November. It isn’t as potent looking at this time, but would be significant nonetheless.
Snowfall is always the hardest piece of the puzzle. There will be storms moving through, and there will be cold air in place. However, the devil is always in the details -- which are quite sketchy this far out. That is why it is so important to stay current with our forecast. Lots of folks are traveling this time of year. If you don’t pay attention to the forecast, it can jump up and bite you. For those that love winter weather (cold and snow), we would say that the most exciting times of the winter are yet to come. Remember when we said that winter would be a “late show”? Well, we believe that mother nature is simply just getting warmed up.
Saturday, December 13th 2014
Here is a quick update for you regarding this weekend’s storm system. In short, timing and strength remain relatively unchanged to what we laid out in great deal yesterday and Thursday. That said, there are two distinct “camps” regarding the snowfall forecast which are worthy of discussing further.
The most popular camp -- to which the global, and some of the mesoscale models belong -- still indicates a very “minor” snow for the Denver area. This includes our typically preferred ECMWF model, as well as the GFS, GEM, and additionally the NAM. In the other camp is the short range modeling of the SREF, which prefers much higher totals -- by about a factor of 3.
Here’s our latest analysis of snowfall amounts in the various models.
There is a key factor that is a dominant physical process to this storm system: downslope. There is a pronounced “donut hole” within the snow accumulation forecasts in all models. This snowfall gap appears along and east of I-25 over the northern plains in varying degrees of size/position. This is the area of downslope, snow-limiting flow off the Rockies and the Cheyenne Ridge. The extent of that downslope is what varies within individual models and creates the two “camps”.
This downslope will develop as the system passes over Sunday, and will likely quash the potential for any major snowfall amounts. There simply isn’t enough development in the surface pressure pattern to develop a significant offset (upslope), so the mid-level system will be the only factor. As the mid-level low pressure area slides along the New Mexico border and reaches I-25 over Trinidad, Denver will have its greatest snowfall potential. This will be during the daylight hours Sunday. However, by late day into Monday morning, that low pressure area will be off into Kansas creating downslope for the greater metro area. The low pressure area will be deepening during this time, which could favor a surprise spot or two of higher snowfall totals near Denver, but again it will be brief given the speed of the system and quick development of the downslope flow.
We believe this development process is what SREF is grasping onto more than all other models, and it cannot be totally ignored. Dynamically, the mid-levels of this system could -- in theory -- produce Denver’s best snowfall of the season-to-date of perhaps several inches. However, the speed of atmospheric processes outlined above is puts Weather5280 into the lower snow amounts camp (which is supported by a majority of the models).
The only way for this greater snowfall depicted by the SREF to happen is if the system can slow down for just a few more hours before the downslope eats away the chance at decent precipitation. There is little to believe the system will slow, however, as there isn’t anything significant to block its north and eastward progress. In theory, lee-side troughing could be stronger than expected, giving us more snow, but the diffluence pattern in the mid-levels as indicated in ALL models doesn’t support that type of development.
To account for this last bit of uncertainty, the bust index is higher in a few areas to support any change in the strength or speed of the system. You’ll note our forecast totals map is in very reasonable agreement with the model consensus, and has remained in line with the past few blog posts.
It should also be noted, however, that recent warm days don’t necessarily imply that the ground is too warm for snow accumulation. Routine overnight lows below freezing, low sun angle, and short daylight periods have not allowed the ground to re-warm nearly as much as what may be believed. So, despite the fact that temperatures may be a few degrees above freezing during the prime period of possible sno Sunday, light accumulations -- particularly on non-paved surfaces -- are still possible.
You can find our latest snowfall accumulation map above, additionally, here’s a snowfall probability chart for Denver.
Friday, December 12th 2014
In yesterday’s update we outlined in great detail everything that could go wrong with this approaching storm system. Somewhere around midnight last night it appeared as though the whole thing was falling apart. Today we’ve seen some rebounding from the models with regard to snow in Denver, and for reasons outlined below, we still think this storm deserves to be watched.
What we know
We know big changes are on the way beginning Saturday across the state. Highs Friday soared into the 60s for Denver, and while highs may climb back into the 50s Saturday, it looks like the real warmth is gone for awhile come Sunday. Sundays highs will be in the 30s.
Snow is probable for much of eastern Colorado late Saturday night through Sunday, though not everyone will see accumulating snowfall from this system. While models are all over the place with how much snow, mean forecast numbers for Denver would put us in the 0.5 - 3” range, with snow-favored locales doing slightly better. In other words, not a big storm at all. There are scenarios where this range could go up (or down), which I’ll address below.
This is a warm system for December, and with that, what precipitation may begin with or mix with rain at least initially. It also means snowfall ratios will be low for this time of year, likely 12:1 or lower, meaning light QPF can’t be made up for with fluffy snow for higher totals.
While models absolutely tanked last night with regard to QPF, the overall track of this storm remains favorable for snow in Denver, which is why we can’t dismiss this thing completely yet. If someone were to ask you to draw a picture of ideal 500 heights for a Denver snowstorm, you’d likely track an upper level low across the Four Corners, and come up with something that likely looks something like the forecast for Sunday from the GFS:
Unfortunately for snow lovers, in this case this may not tell the whole story.
Current model breakdown for snow at DEN looks like this:
12z GFS: 0” (though has 0.19” as rain, exactly 0.18” wetter than its previous four runs)
18z GFS: (appears slightly colder, but also down to 0.12” QPF)
18z NAM: 0.5 - 3” (highest south and west of Denver)
12z ECMWF (deterministic): 2.7”
12z ECMWF (ensemble): 3”
15z SREF (mean): 4”
18z GFS Upgrade: 2 - 6”
12z GEM: 4 - 8”
GEM is the clear outlier, though the ECM is close for southern/western Denver suburbs, and produces big time snowfall across extreme eastern Colorado into Kansas and Nebraska. The ECM ensemble forecast has also been pretty steady with 3 - 4” for Denver over last day or two. The operational GFS is finally producing moisture but not as snow, while the upgrade produces several inches for Denver. The NAM was snowless for all of eastern Colorado this morning, but now produces a bit for Denver metro at 18z. Mahem.
What we’re watching for
Better model agreement on snowfall.
The big thing we’ll be watching for over the next 24 hours is if models latch on to a higher snowfall forecast trend, or keep us somewhere between dry and a few inches. Was the slight uptick seen by some models today just a fluke? Or, are they starting to come around to a higher end solution?
If not, we’ll likely lock in a low end forecast for Denver tomorrow, with higher totals possible for the foothills, Palmer Divide, and portions of the eastern Plains into Kansas and Nebraska. While current NWP forecasts would mean a no-biggie storm for Denver, we think it’s prudent to watch this thing over the next 24 hours and see if anything changes.
More updates will follow as needed, so subscribe!
Oh, and if you’re holding out for next week’s storm, get ready for more of the crazy. Last night’s EURO dumped snow on Denver, today it’s moved the snow band about 400 miles south. The GFS? Virtually dry.