Colorado Wind and Snow Event
February 20-23, 2012

by John Farley

High winds affected much of Colorado from February 20 through 23. With the jet stream directly over Colorado and a series of disturbances riding southeast along the jet stream, several waves of high wind affected the state on President's Day and the next few days. Meeting up with my high school friend Tim Lane and his group of ski buddies from Iowa after Chasercon gave me the opportunity to personally experience this weather system, for better and for worse. On President's day at Breckenridge, I encountered the worst combination of wind and cold I have skied in since the last time I skied with Tim three years ago at the Sundown ski area in Iowa. (Gee, maybe I should bring him along on some of my storm chases!) The next day it was warmer, but the wind was about as strong at Keystone. Fortunately, snow the previous two nights and through the day led to very good ski conditions. Heading south after skiing, I encountered, around the Salida, CO area, some of the gale to hurricane force winds that affected central and northern Colorado on February 21st. The picture below shows snow blowing off the peaks of the Sawatch Range northwest of Salida late in the afternoon on the 21st:

During the afternoon and evening of February 21, nearby Monarch Pass experienced sustained winds as high at times as 68 mph, with gusts as high as 76 mph. The next day, the winds were even stronger from the Continental Divide eastward through the foothills above Boulder, Denver, and Colorado Springs, resulting in widespread wind damage in these areas. Wind in excess of 60 mph was commonplace along the Front Range and foothills, with some spots experiencing gusts in excess of 90 mph. Here are some local storm reports and news reports:

Local Storm Reports from Denver NWS

Local Storm Reports from Pueblo NWS (includes snow reports as well as wind reports)

Denver Post article

Video of Boulder high school student blown over by wind

Here is a picture of a mountain wave cloud, along with some cumuloform clouds along the ridges, that I took the morning of the 23rd from the west edge of Salida looking toward Monarch Pass.

Early this morning the wind gusted to 58 mph, even around the valley location where I took this picture. The wind subsided for a time during the day, but by the early morning of February 23, the wind in Monarch Pass was sustained as high as 60 mph with gusts as high as 83 mph.

The violent weather continued into the morning of February 23rd, when I-70 was closed in several locations due to wind, snow, and avalanche danger. Low pressure moving directly over the Denver area intensified in the wee hours, resulting in up to 10 inches of wind-driven snow in parts of the Denver area.

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