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Spring storms expected to bring snow to Denver, increased avalanche risk to mountains

Snowpack at best late-season levels since 2011
Posted at 1:09 PM, Apr 29, 2019
and last updated 2019-04-30 10:14:50-04

DENVER — Winter has not yet released its grasp on Colorado.

That’s not surprising for long-time Colorado residents, but newer folks may be left scratching their heads. Snow in late April? Yep, and keep that winter jacket handy.

A Winter Storm Warning will go into effect Monday afternoon for the mountains and foothills, according to the National Weather Service. Eastern Larimer County and northern Weld County will likely find themselves in a Winter Weather Advisory around that same time.

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Denver and the surrounding communities will stay mostly free of these warnings, though the area will feel a little bit of winter return as temperatures dip into the 30s. The eastern plains will have a real-feel temperature in the 20s with the wind.

Snow in Denver could range from 1 to 3 inches as the cold front moves in.

READ MORE: Spring storm moving into Colorado will bring rain, snow

If you plan to stay below 6,000 feet over the next few days, you will likely see limited snow. Parts of north Denver into the Fort Collins metro area could see a bit more — 3 to 8 inches — on Monday. Expect wet roads on your evening commute.

Accumulations of between 8 and 16 inches is expected along the Front Range foothills, in Summit County, the Mosquito Range, Indian Peaks, Rocky Mountain National Park, the Medicine Bow Range and Rabbit Ears Pass, according to the NWS.

Higher totals of up to 20 inches are possible in the Western Mosquito Range, the Sawatch Mountains and Sangre de Cristos above 11,000 feet. Winds that could gust to 35 or 40 miles per hour could accompany these storms, according to the NWS.

Drivers traveling along Interstate 25 in northern Colorado should prepare for slick spots Monday evening into Tuesday morning, according to NWS.

Snowpack at best late-season levels since 2011

Spring snowstorms have done wonders for Colorado’s snowpack and drought conditions. After a storm late last week, Colorado’s snowpack sat at 119% of the median, according to the Natural Resources Conservation Service of Colorado.

The only basin in the state not seeing above-normal snow-water equivalent as of Monday was the Yampa and White region in northwestern Colorado, which was at 97% of the median.

According to NRCS models, this is the latest in the season that Colorado’s snowpack has been this favorable since 2011.

The snowpack has also helped pull Colorado out of severe drought conditions it experienced last year, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. As of last week, just 1% of the state was experiencing moderate drought, and 22 percent of the state was abnormally dry. About 78% of the state was drought-free.

A year, ago, 18% of the state was drought free and 31% of the state was experiencing extreme or exceptional drought.

Avalanche danger still exists in High Country

With the exception of the Front Range, most snow at and below treeline in the mountains is wet and soft, according to the Colorado Avalanche Information Center. That has increased the risk of avalanches. The Front Range has seen overnight freezes that have been cold enough to keep snow firm, so avalanche risk is generally low there.

Across the board, avalanche risks increase Tuesday as a result of Monday’s snowfall. But it won’t come close to the levels in early and mid-March, when historic conditions spurred several avalanches to tumble down slopes and spill onto highways.

To check how supportive the snow is, the CAIC recommends walking in a safe place and taking note of how deep you sink in the snow. If your foot plunges more than six inches into wet, unconsolidated snow, you should put off your exploring for another day.

What will follow the storm?

Tuesday’s forecast will bring similar conditions: Slightly warmer than Monday, but still chilly with a light rain. Wet, heavy snow is possible in the Denver area.

Occasional snow showers will continue in the mountains Tuesday and Wednesday, which will add an additional 5 to 10 inches of snow.

Will things brighten up Wednesday along the Front Range? Not at this point. Cool weather with afternoon showers and thunderstorms are expected mid-week.

Winter will loosen its grasp — for now, because a May snow is still very possible — Thursday through the weekend. With temperatures in the 60s and 70s, the ground should dry up around the Denver metro area.

A new dumping of snow could make for some ideal final runs at Colorado’s ski resorts. Breckenridge will remain open until Memorial Day (May 27), Arapahoe Basin doesn’t close until early June and Purgatory Resort’s closing day is Saturday.

For the latest forecast, visit The Denver Channel’s weather page here.