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2019's wacky weather caused some counties to deplete their snow removal budgets

Denver snow
Posted at 6:25 PM, Dec 23, 2019
and last updated 2019-12-23 20:25:26-05

DENVER — From summer snow storms to bomb cyclones, 2019 has certainly been an interesting year weather-wise across Colorado.

Across the Front Range, cities and counties have experienced 32 to 34 inches of snow this season versus the typical 18 to 19 inches they average. That doesn’t include the bomb cyclone or summer snowstorms from earlier in the year.

“We had a couple of good snow storms late October and again late November and so that’s really bumped our numbers up above the seasonal normal for this time of year,” said Greg Hanson, the warning coordination meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Boulder.

All this snow has been a good thing for the state as a whole. The snowpack around Colorado is at about 120 percent, which is higher than average, helping the state water supply and mountain economies with snow for skiers.

Hanson says the change he’s noticed is that winter weather is starting a little later than average.

“Over the last several years, we’ve actually seen winter contract a little bit. Snow comes a little bit later in the fall than you’ve previously seen,” he said.

Despite a shorter snow season, the overall amount of snow falling is remaining steady, meaning there’s more snow falling in less time.

Another change he’s seen doesn’t have to do with snow but freezing rain.

“One change I think we are seeing a little bit now versus the previous 20 years is a few more incidents of freezing drizzle and freezing rain that haven’t really happened,” Hanson said, which he attributes to warming temperatures and climate change.

This year’s snowstorms might be good for the state’s water supply, but they are also taking a toll on snow removal budgets. Adams County says it is over budget for snow removal this year thanks to the storms.

“It definitely impacted our budget. I think we’re almost at 195 percent, so we’re almost at 100 percent over what we typically would spend,” said Jeremy Reichert, the operations manager for public works for Adams County.

That amount only includes the materials budget for the deicers. The county is also over budget by between $50,000 and 60,000 for employee overtime.

The county usually averages about 16 snow events per year but says it has had 22 so far in 2019.

Reichert says it’s not necessarily the big snow events that cost the county the most money.

“The ones that tend to consume more material would be, surprisingly, the smaller or lower accumulation events where we are dealing with a lot of ice and cold temperatures,” he said.

The Front Range experienced several of those smaller storms back-to-back this year, which took a lot of deicer to clear the roads.

Adams County was not the only one that went over budget this year in its snow removal efforts.

Douglas County officials say their team treated and plowed roads for 34 weather events this year, which put them $300,000 over budget.

Other cities and counties fared a little better. Denver, which typically expends about $5.5 million on snow removal annually, says it managed to stay within its budget this year despite the bomb cyclone and other major snowstorms to hit the area.

Arapahoe County, meanwhile, also reported that its snow removal program is not over budget, partially because the county buys winter supplies during the summer when they tend to be cheaper.

Even for weather experts, it’s difficult to determine whether 2019’s storms could be repeated in 2020.

“That kind of outlook is very difficult. Climate is what you expect, and weather is what you get,” Hanson said.

With a new year approaching, it will be up to cities and counties to try to determine whether their snow removal budgets are enough or if they want to add more money just in case 2020’s weather ends up being as unpredictable as this year’s.