Eighty-nine years ago this week, Colorado experienced the largest snowstorm in the state’s recorded history: a blizzard that covered the entire Front Range from Trinidad to Cheyenne in an average of 40 inches of snow. Colorado State University’s Colorado Climate Center is commemorating the event’s anniversary by assisting in creating a historical record of the storm and is requesting assistance from citizens who can help better understand how the storm affected the state’s residents in 1913.
"We have plenty of meteorological research data and climate information necessary to analyze storm patterns, snowfall totals and the weather conditions that led to the 1913 blizzard," said Nolan Doesken, climate researcher at the center. "What we are lacking for the report is the personal stories and individual accounts that can add a human focus to this description of Colorado’s largest storm."
Doesken is collaborating with Georgetown resident and Colorado historian William Wilson on the special not-for-profit account of the 1913 storm. The report will be provided free of charge to historical societies and related groups for publication and other uses as determined by the organizations. Once completed, the report will additionally be posted on the Climate Center Web site at http://climate.atmos.colostate.edu/.
Doesken and Wilson are attempting to track down personal experiences of people who had relatives who survived the storm, or from survivors themselves, likely to now be in their late 90s. Individuals with family stories, anecdotes, diaries, journals, letters, photos or old newspaper clippings relating to the great blizzard of 1913 are encouraged to contact Doesken at (970) 491-8545 or via e-mail at email@example.com, or Wilson at (303) 569-2446 or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
In the first five days of December 1913, most areas along today’s I-25 corridor received between 3 and 5 feet of wet, heavy snow.
"Colorado has had many giant snowstorms in the past 100 plus years of recorded history, but few hold a candle to the potent storm of 1913," said Doesken.
On Monday, Dec. 1, 1913, a storm moved into Colorado from Arizona that initially produced modest mountain snows, some light snows over 5,000 feet and rain over eastern Colorado. Precipitation increased late that day and continued throughout Dec 2. By Wednesday, Dec. 3, the precipitation had stopped falling over much of northern Colorado and was light over southern Colorado; many assumed the storm was over.
The early phase of the storm was moderate but not exceptional. By the end of the third day, Denver had 8 inches of snow on the ground. The area hit hardest by this first phase was Larimer and Weld counties, with Fort Collins receiving 15 inches of snow and Kersey reporting 14 inches.
However, according to Doesken and Wilson, on Thursday, Dec. 4, all hell broke loose. Heavy snow developed along the Front Range and the blizzard raged on through Friday, Dec. 5, before moving east to Kansas.
By storm’s end, Denver reported up to 36 inches of snow and Boulder reported 42 inches. The storm’s heaviest snowfall totals occurred in Georgetown, which received 86 inches of snow. The state, especially along the Front Range, was essentially shut down.
According to Doesken, the impacts of the storm were many and varied. Thousands of people were stranded away from their homes and flocked to auditoriums and other public buildings for shelter. The roofs of several homes and businesses caved from the weight of the snow. Several people were reported missing and a few died. Flooding streets followed the storm’s melt-off in several cities. Transportation and business throughout the state were brought to a standstill.
A positive result from the storm is that many of Colorado’s strict building codes are a direct result of the destruction casued by the heavy snow. Today’s buildings are designed to withstand a similar storm. Additionally, eastern Colorado received very heavy rainfall from the storm, the heaviest December rainfall for that area in recorded history, which proved to have very positive impacts on Colorado agriculture industry the following year.
According to Doesken, analyzing past events such as this one not only creates a historical record and makes for interesting conversation, but also helps prepare for the future.
"Chances are that a storm similar to the great blizzard of 1913 can and will happen again," said Doesken. "Studying this storm can help us better prepare to both forecast and overcome a similar storm in the future."