Colorado's 2013 Weather Retrospective

We just about saw it all in 2013, from exceptional drought to 1,000-year floods, from record heat to bitter cold. Colorado has some of the most desirable weather on earth, but every once in a while Mother Nature unleashes her powerful fury across the state. In today's post, we look back at some of our state's most memorable weather stories from 2013.

Early 2013: Snowpack Concerns
We started the year well below average statewide for snowpack. By the end of January, Denver had only received 17 inches of snow which is 10 inches below normal for that point in the season. All of Colorado's major river basins were approaching 10-year lows at approximately 60% of normal levels, and the second lowest level to end January in 34 years.

Luckily, late spring brought relief to portions of Colorado. Between February and April, Denver International Airport (where official records are kept for Denver) recorded 58 inches of snow, nearly exactly that of our seasonal average, and 74% of our 2012/13 seasonal total of 78.4 inches. While the late season snow was greatly beneficial for the northern Front Range and north central mountains, southern Colorado did not fare so well. Consequently, the wildfire season was far worse over southern Colorado this summer than in recent years.

Severe Weather Season
Tornado warned storm Greeley, Colorado | Brendan Heberton

Across Colorado and the United States, this year's severe weather season was well below average when it comes to tornadoes. The three year average for the number of tornadoes across the U.S. is 1,303, but in 2013 the Storm Prediction Center has only confirmed 717 tornadoes to date.

The tornadoes that did strike proved tragic. In May of 2013 we lost three incredible scientists to the El Reno tornado which swept through Oklahoma. Tim Samaras, his son Paul Samaras, and Carl Young were killed by a powerful EF3 tornado, a dangerous storm which took many veteran chasers by surprise. Tim and Paul were both from Colorado. They dedicated their lives to studying tornadoes, and contributed invaluable findings to the weather community that continues to seek a better understanding of tornado development and prediction.

In Colorado the severe weather season was relatively tame. The state saw several tornadoes, including one dramatic one near Denver International Airport, but not nearly the number of tornadoes we typically see in an average season. The bigger story this year was not severe weather, but rain -- and lots of it.

In August, Manitou Springs saw day after day of torrential rains as slow moving thunderstorms parked themselves over the canyons upstream. The flash flooding that followed proved deadly, and brought awful destruction to the quaint foothills community. Little did we know this was just a precursor for what was headed toward northeast Colorado in September.

Historic Colorado Floods
The historic September rain of 2013 will no doubt be long remembered. There was no bigger weather story this year across the state, and months after the last of the flooding waters receded, thousands of Coloradans continue the slow rebuilding and recovering process.

Related: What caused the Colorado floods

In November, I released a multimedia story on the Colorado floods aimed to help tell the story of what will forever enter the history books as one of Colorado's most devastating natural disasters. High Water takes a look at some of the statistics behind the historic floods, and explores the geography of some of the most affected communities.

Drought Flip
Despite some of Colorado's drought relief being so destructive in nature, 2013 saw dramatic drought improvement statewide. Take a look at where we were at the end of January 2013 according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. 53% of the state was experiencing extreme drought, while 95% of the state was under severe drought.

Now, let's compare that to December 3, 2013. With the exception of the exceptional drought persisting over southeast Colorado, there have been incredible improvements in the last 10 months. While 67% of the state is still considered abnormally dry, only 12.01% of the state is now classified as under severe drought.

A Cold Start to the 2013/14 Winter
Denver International Airport has only recorded 6.5" of snow so far this year. On average, Denver usually sees about 21.2" by the end of December, which means we'd need 14.7" of snow in the next two weeks to end the month at normal for the season.

The cold, on the other hand, has not been so shy. November was more-or-less "normal" across the region, but the start of December has been quite cold. Due to the arctic outbreak, Denver has started the month -14.9 degrees below normal through the first 10 days, with a mean temperature of just 15.8 degrees Fahrenheit. It will warm up over the next few days, but there continues to be indications of a return to cold to finish 2013!

Thank you for reading along with us and we look forward to another year of incredible weather in 2014!

Brendan Heberton

Brendan is founder of Weather5280. He is co-founder of FreshyMap, and develops software for geospatial data analysis and visualization.

Denver, Colorado
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