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Greg Channing of the Downtown Boulder Partnership removes snow from the Pearl Street Mall bricks and the kiosks on Saturday, which saw the final snowfall of the year.
Greg Channing of the Downtown Boulder Partnership removes snow from the Pearl Street Mall bricks and the kiosks on Saturday, which saw the final snowfall of the year.

Boulder will start off the new decade with a relatively mild winter day after a 2019 that saw the city experience a temperature range of 109 degrees and the biggest November snowstorm in 30 years.

Boulder meteorologist Matt Kelsch on Tuesday distributed his 2019 climate summary for Boulder, which is highlighted by the maximum temperature of 100 registered on Sept. 2, and the lowest bone-chilling reading being minus 9 on Feb. 7.

That 100-degree scorcher on Labor Day was the latest-in-the-year 100-degree report on record for Boulder, and also represents the highest September reading on record.

The single greatest precipitation event was the 1.48 inches associated with the snowstorm that paralyzed the area Nov. 25 and 26. The year’s biggest snowfall event was the 22.5 inches of snow that fell over those two days, and the greatest 24-hour snow total also was during that same onslaught, at 22.3 inches.

As a side note, that storm produced even more prodigious totals at several mountain locations, with the highest reading coming in at up to 44 inches for Buckhorn Mountain west of Fort Collins.

The 22.5 inches of snow that fell in Boulder at the beginning of Thanksgiving week is tied with the March 18-19 2003 storm for the fifth-biggest snow of the last 30 years. The top four are represented by 29.8 inches in October 1997, 26 inches in December 2006, 23 inches in October 2009 and 22.7 inches in February 2012.

And, with the big dump of November, it should not be surprising that November was Boulder’s snowiest month in 2019, the 29.5 inches for the month edging out October’s 26.4 inches. Those numbers far outstrip any of the year’s late winter-early spring monthly totals, which topped out at the 16.2 inches that fell in March.

In total, Boulder saw 122.2 inches of snow in 2019, a 32.5% increase over the 30-year average annual total of 92.2 inches.

There were no fewer than 52 days with thunder, and seven marred by hail.

Corresponding numbers for temperatures and precipitation totals in Longmont were not readily available.

While long-term forecasting is still an imperfect science, veteran weather observers in Colorado know the state’s fortunes are influenced to no small degree by the El Niño-Southern Oscillation, also known as ENSO, a cyclical pattern of warm and cool phases of a recurring climate pattern observed in the tropical Pacific Ocean. ENSO has three phases, El Niño, La Niña, and neutral.

As described by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s, the pattern can shift back and forth irregularly every two to seven years. Each phase triggers predictable disruptions of temperature, precipitation and winds. These changes disrupt the large-scale air movements in the tropics, triggering countless global side effects.

NOAA’s most recent posting on the status of ENSO is that it is in — and will remain in — a neutral phase.

“Temperatures across the tropical Pacific were above average in November, but sub-surface heat content was near normal as were surface winds,” NOAA reported. “Of the three possible outcomes — return of El Niño, La Niña, or neutral — forecasters continue to give neutral the highest odds (70% chance) of continuing through winter.”

Colorado State Climatologist Russ Schumacher earlier this season said that most neutral years see average to a little bit lower snowfall for the mountains. A handful of years have shown a lot of snow, while others have been quite dry, but there are more dry years than snowy years in neutral years, according to Schumacher.

Klaus Wolter, a research scientist now retired from the University of Colorado Boulder’s Cooperative Institute of Research in Environmental Sciences, by email offered a differing perspective.

A separate ENSO index known as the Southern Oscillation Index has been running “negative” all year, which spells El Niño-like conditions, and “supports the notion that we have been either in an El Niño or border-line El Niño for much of 2019,” Wolter wrote. That aligns with the wetter conditions seen on the Front Range this fall, as well as the recent dry spells which appear poised to last into January, he noted.

Wolter wrote that in his opinion, “It is still possible that El Niño will still be around in the spring to tilt the odds toward wet conditions around here, with the best odds in March.”

Meanwhile, the new decade will be ushered in by mostly sunny skies in Boulder County and a high of 50 on Wednesday with winds at 20 to 23 mph, with gusts as high as 34 mph. There is no precipitation in the forecast until Sunday, which shows just a chance of snow showers.

A different story will unfold in the mountains. Kelsch predicted on his blog winter travel conditions for Wednesday and Wednesday night at high mountain passes and west-facing slopes, especially north of Interstate 70, where over a foot of snow is likely.

2019 Climate summary for Boulder

Maximum temperature: 100, Sept. 2

Minimum temperature:  -9, Feb. 7

Greatest precipitation event: 1.48 inches, Nov. 25-26

Greatest snowfall event: 22.5 inches, 25-26 Nov. 25-26

Greatest 24-hour snowfall:  22.3 inches, Nov. 25-26

Total snowfall for year: 122.2 inches

Days with thunder: 52

Days with hail: 7

Source: Boulder meteorologist Matt Kelsch

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