Shorts to Shovels: Denver’s Wild Weather

Imagine going from sunny and 70-something one day to snow and 30 degrees the next. Or vice versa.

In Seattle, either is impossible. In Denver, both happen several times a year.

Thanks to its mile-high elevation and considerable distance from large bodies of water—the Pacific Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico are each over 1,000 miles away—Denver is often subject to dramatic temperature swings, especially in the fall and spring. These wild fluctuations in the mercury can either raise or lower the Mile High City’s temperature by 50 degrees in just 24 hours’ time.

Snow in Denver
A fresh coating of snow—like the one seen here in the Denver suburb of Broomfield in 2011—is expected throughout the Denver metro tomorrow, fresh off the heels of 70-degree weather.

When powerful winds (known as Chinooks) blast into the city from the west, Denver experiences drastic temperature rises as the arriving air is warmed significantly by its descent down the adjacent Rocky Mountains. On the flip side, strong arctic fronts barreling in from the wide-open plains to Denver’s north are responsible for the city’s infamous temperature plunges.

Such a nosedive in temperature is already underway in Denver today, as the brunt of the cold air that gave Seattle its earliest sub-50 October high since 1997 (we only hit 46 on Tuesday) roars into the city. After reaching 77 degrees yesterday, Denver is pegged to fall below freezing by 9 p.m. tonight as rain changes to snow.

Back in the Pacific Northwest, any snow showers will be reserved for the mountain passes, with the snow level hovering around 3,000 feet. Unseasonably cool air will also linger in the lowlands another day, with highs in Seattle tomorrow maxing out in the low 50s—similar to today. Given that the average high for this time of year is 57 degrees, tomorrow should make for Seattle’s sixth consecutive below normal day. On the bright side, things look dry from mid-morning on.

Wetter weather comes back in time for Friday and the weekend, with rain anticipated all three days. By then, however, the chill of the past week should be on its way out, allowing our highs to rise back into the upper 50s—while the Mile High City flirts with freezing temperatures and snow.

Don’t pity those Denverites too much, though—by Monday, they’ll be back to 70 degrees and sun.

Such is life in their roller-coaster weather town.