DENVER — As we close out 2023, there's no doubt Colorado's weather captured the headlines at various times throughout the year. We saw weather extremes of all kinds.
Then came spring, if you could even call it that here in Colorado. We saw temperatures below normal, with rainfall well above normal. We also saw rainfall records shattered. May 2023 would go down as the fourth wettest May on record.
"It was extremely active for severe thunderstorms," said Dr. Russ Schumacher, Colorado's state climatologist. "We saw a large number of tornadoes, and possibly the most active hail season that we have ever had in Colorado," said Schumacher.
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He added that Colorado's weather can be interesting on its own, but add global warming to the mix, and things can get interesting.
"So, the wet years get wetter, the dry years get drier, maybe the average doesn't change that much, but you end up with greater variability, and more extremes," said Schumacher. "Kind of bouncing between drought and heavy rain."
Heavy rain moved into Colorado in late spring and into the early summer months. Some of the storms that rolled through caused major flooding in some areas. One of those storms spawned a rare tornado that cut a six-mile path of destruction through Highlands Ranch on June 22. The National Weather Service categorized that tornado as an EF-1 on the Enhanced Fujita Scale. That means the tornado likely had winds speeds between 86 and 110 miles per hour.
There is a history of tornadoes hitting the Denver metro, but it's certainly less frequent than what happens further out on the plains," said Schumacher. And then there was a freak hailstorm, also happening in June, in which close to 100 Red Rock concert goers were pelted with hail as they scrambled for cover while attending a show.
"I think one thing that is likely to change, that's likely going to continue moving forward is, we're going to continue to see more and more damage from hail," said Schumacher. "Some of that may be due to a change in climate but an even bigger factor is that we keep building more structures in the way, and there's just more stuff to be hit when you get one of these big storms."
In July, another extreme weather event happened, this time near Pikes Peak. Remember the saying that tornadoes don't happen in the mountains? Well, it did on July 24, when an EF-1 tornado touched down just above 9,000 feet of elevation, leaving a path of destruction near the mountain.
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And we can't forget one of the biggest weather stories of the year, which happened in August.
A record-breaking hailstone measuring 5.25 inches in diameter fell from a severe thunderstorm in Colorado's eastern plains, shattering the previous record by about half-an-inch. The stone was later confirmed to be the largest one in state record.
"You know, climate change isn't sort of making new threats, it's taking ones we already have, and potentially making them worse, " said Schumacher. "And when you overlay that with vulnerable populations, people in vulnerable areas — that can really lead to big impacts," Schumacher said.
We are closing out 2023 on the quiet side for now. Looking ahead into 2024, the next weather event likely to be in the news will be El Niño. For that one, we'll have to see what happens.