The Ten Most Spectacular Snowstorms in Denver

Snow day! (Maybe.)
Snow day! (Maybe.)
Vaquero Cooper at Flickr

Everyone loves a snow day. The Mile High City — and Colorado in general — was put under a Winter Storm Warning starting mid-afternoon on January 4, and all reports suggested that Denver was in for a long winter’s nap, courtesy of a slow snow event. City offices are opening late on January 5, schools are canceling, and traffic is slow. How will this storm stack up against the city’s historic snow totals? The answer, according to the weather prognosticators — which  are sometimes as dependable as consulting the Magic 8-Ball — is that this storm won’t break into the top 20, let alone the top 10.

Take a break from watching the snow fall and the evidence pile up, and revisit some of Denver's real record-setting storms — you know, the ones that convince the rest of America that we don’t have 300-plus days of sunshine a year and that our streets are the same cold, slushy, road-sludge ice rinks that they have in the upper Midwest. Here are the top ten Denver blizzards, ranked by inches fallen. Drive slowly, people!

This sign: newer than the 1883 blizzard.
This sign: newer than the 1883 blizzard.
David at Flickr

10. January 29-31, 1883
The first month of 1883 went out in a white blur here in Denver, with 19.3 inches falling over a few very cold days. This is the earliest date in the top ten, though that probably has something to do with when people began keeping records. This particular record was set only 25 years after Denver was founded, and only weeks after Thomas Edison installed the first electric lighting system in New Jersey. It’s a pretty good bet that a footand a half of snow was tougher to handle back then.

9. December 20-21, 2006
The most recent date on the list of the top ten Denver snowstorms was the pre-Christmas 2006 blizzard. The snowfall measured 20.7 inches, and completely screwed holiday travelers not only here in Colorado, but across the country, as the domino effect of airline cancellations kicked in. Hundreds of motorists had to be rescued from roadsides around the metro area, and drifting became an issue. But the main problem was the tangle at DIA, and not for the last time.

The elusive snow beetle.
The elusive snow beetle.
Nick Nunns at Flickr

8. November 26-27, 1983
On Thanksgiving, you’re supposed to go over the river and through the wood to grandmother’s house, right? The only way you were going to do that on Thanksgiving 1983 was if you actually had a sleigh, because the 21.5 inches that fell kept you from traveling in almost anything else. What’s worse (and rare for Denver!) was that the snow stuck around for more than two months, refusing to fully melt. Ah, 1983: When Alaska came to Denver for Turkey Day and refused to leave.

7. October 24-25, 1997
Still-shiny-new Denver International Airport got hit hard by the October 1997 snowstorm, when the all-weather airport was completely shut down, stranding over 4,000 passengers with 21.9 inches of snowfall. This, of course, was nearly twenty years before the Westin Hotel opened, so marooned would-be travelers did the best they could, sleeping where they could find space, with purses for pillows and coats for blankets and a list of rightful complaints a mile long.

6. October 20-23, 1906
Over four days in 1906, 22.7 inches of snow fell along the Front Range, and newspapers on the coasts reported that the monster storm had taken down telegraph lines and completely isolated cities like Denver. In 1906, this was a big deal. The Queen City of the Plains essentially became The Shining’s Overlook Hotel, only for real, minus the ax-wielding Jack Nicholson. As far as we know, at least.

Keep reading for five more of Denver's biggest snowstorms.

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