Storm falls on 10-year anniversary of blizzard in Summit
Ryan Summerlin March 25, 2013
It was an eerily familiar storm.
On the heels of a terrible snow season, a summer of catastrophic wildfires and severe drought conditions, it was once again snowing on Saint Patrick’s Day.
Exactly a decade earlier, in March of 2003, another snowstorm blew into Colorado under almost identical circumstances, dumping between 3 and 7 feet of powder across the state, wreaking havoc on businesses, schools and roads and ending the worst drought the state had seen in 300 years.
Though this week’s winter weather arrived on the anniversary of that game-changing storm, it didn’t pack quite the same punch as its predecessor.
“It was the same timing, but the storm overall was a little bit slower, a little bit weaker,” National Weather Service meteorologist Kyle Fredin said. “You could almost call it about a third the storm, in both strength and duration.”
The town of Breckenridge awoke under a half-dozen inches of fresh snow while higher elevations in Summit County got as much as a foot. Local resorts were reporting between 7 (Keystone Resort) and 16 inches (Copper Mountain) of new powder over the last few days. It was a notable dose of precipitation, particularly in the context of the last two seasons, and enough to close highways and delay after-school programs in the High Country, but far from sufficient to alleviate current drought conditions.
Experts say it will help, however, rebuilding the still below-average snowpack in Colorado as one of the snowiest months of the year winds down.
It’s likely the last Summit County will see of any significant moisture for the next several days. Forecasts are calling for low chances of precipitation today, Tuesday and Wednesday with sunshine and warmer temperatures returning on Thursday, according to National Weather Service projections.
“We’ll have a weak ridge over Colorado,” meteorologist and weather blogger Joel Gratz stated Sunday. “Ridges are usually areas of dry weather that deflect the storms to the north, however this ridge is weak, so some storm energy and moisture will infiltrate the ridge. This could lead to times of clouds and light showers during the week.”
Storm of the century
Though the weather patterns have been similar, it is increasingly unlikely that history will continue to repeat itself. Experts say the chances of Colorado getting a storm significant enough to alleviate the current drought are shrinking, although major spring storms have arrived in April.
On the Front Range, the 2003 blizzard dropped roughly 3 feet of snow in two days. It caused more than 93 million dollars in damage, shuttered schools for days and was indirectly linked to several deaths.
“This is the storm of the century,” Denver Mayor Wellington Webb said at the time. “A backbreaker, a record breaker, a roof breaker.”
Interstate 70 was closed for two days as avalanches threatened to slide onto the highway. Hundreds of tourists were trapped in Summit County, and many of them had to be sheltered at the Silverthorne Recreation Center when the hotels filled up.
But for locals, it was the perfect storm.
“It was epic today,” Doug Vincent, then a 24-year ski instructor at Arapahoe Basin told the Summit Daily, saying he’d had the best run of his life in “chest-deep powder” on March 18, 2003. “This thing is monstrous.”
A-Basin got 31 inches out of the storm and that month the snowiest March on record. It was the second-biggest storm in Colorado’s recorded history, falling only behind a 1913 blizzard that brought in 45.7 inches of snow.