You might be surprised how accurate meteorologists fared with Colorado snow totals

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Meteorologists are often the focus of jokes for missing weather forecasts.

That was true in a big way before this weekend’s storm, with many on social media roasting forecasters Saturday for predicting 1 to 4 feet of snow for Northern Colorado. The more the snow didn’t pile up during the day Saturday, the more the criticism did as “the big storm” produced little more than spitting rain for many areas.

Although the storm was slow in arriving, meteorologists continued to push back at social media critics, saying the brunt of the storm was still on its way.

They were right. When it did arrive Saturday night, as forecast, the storm produced snow through Sunday evening that eventually landed it in the record books.

“We deal with heckling almost every day, so we are used to it and usually just laugh it off,” said Evan Direnzo, a forecaster at the National Weather Service Boulder office. “It was a challenging forecast for the storm’s specifics. Even if the timing was off just a bit, we got the the intensity right and so we were happy that we were able to provide information to help protect life and property.”

Weather service and Denver TV meteorologists generally forecast 18-24 inches in Fort Collins, 24-30 inches in Estes Park, 2 to 4 feet in the foothills, 18-24 inches in Boulder, 12-18 inches in Denver and 24-30 inches in Cheyenne, Wyoming.

And they were pretty much right on — even a bit low in places.

Storm rewind: How it unfolded

Fort Collins officially received 19.6 inches of snow and 2.31 inches of precipitation during the storm, according to the Colorado Climate Center. Reporting stations on the west side of the city generally reported several more inches of snow. 

The storm total of 19.6 inches is the city’s 11th-largest snowfall total overall, missing cracking the top 10 by .04 of an inch, and third-most for March storms. 

The Buckhorn Mountain and Pingree Park areas, which are in the Cameron Peak Fire burn scar, received 3 to 3.5 feet of snow. In the foothills, Rustic recorded 30 inches, and Horsetooth Mountain received 28.5 inches.

Estes Park, Boulder and Denver received around 20 inches of snow, and Cheyenne nearly 31 inches. 

The biggest forecast miss was Denver International Airport, which received 27.1 inches of snow, or about twice or more than what was generally forecast. It was the fourth-largest snowstorm in Denver history and produced thousands of flight cancellations.

Snow totals

These totals reflect the amounts recorded either late Sunday night or early Monday morning by National Weather Service and Community Collaborative Rain, Hail and Snow Network sites

Local

  • Buckhorn Mountain (site is 3 miles southeast): 42 inches
  • Glen Haven (5 miles southeast): 36 inches
  • Pingree Park (3 miles northwest): 35 inches
  • Trail Ridge Road (Rocky Mountain National Park): 33 inches
  • Virginia Dale (7 miles east): 31 inches
  • Cheyenne, Wyoming: 30.8 inches
  • Rustic: 30 inches
  • Horsetooth Mountain (2 miles southeast): 28.5 inches
  • Cameron Pass: 28 inches
  • Loveland: 26 inches
  • Bear Lake (RMNP): 25 inches
  • Estes Park: 22.3 inches
  • Allenspark: 22 inches
  • Wellington (3 miles northwest): 21 inches
  • Berthoud (4.4 miles southwest): 20 inches
  • Boulder: (4 miles northeast): 20 inches
  • Fort Collins: 19.6 inches
  • Drake: (4.3 miles southwest): 19 inches
  • Longmont (2 miles north): 19 inches
  • Timnath: 17.4 inches
  • Greeley: 15 inches

Statewide

  • Silver Plume (3 miles southeast): 30 inches
  • Jamestown (3 miles west): 28.6 inches
  • DIA: 27.1 inches
  • Conifer (3 miles northwest): 27 inches
  • Arvada: 26 inches
  • Aurora: 25 inches
  • Grand Lake (3.7 miles southwest): 24.5 inches
  • Erie (2 miles northwest): 24 inches
  • Evergreen (1.8 miles north): 24 inches
  • Ken Caryl: 23 inches
  • Lakewood (1.5 miles southwest): 23 inches
  • Denver (2 miles southeast): 21 inches
  • Frisco: 21 inches
  • Nederland: 21 inches
  • Westminster (1.6 miles northeast): 20 inches
  • Golden (1.2 miles northwest) : 19.8 inches

Top 10 Fort Collins snowstorms

  • March 18-19, 2003: 32.2 inches
  • May 5-7, 1978: 27.8 inches
  • April 15-17, 2013: 22.4 inches
  • Nov. 20-21, 1979: 22.1 inches
  • Oct. 28-29, 2009: 21.7 inches
  • April 3-5, 1983: 21.4 inches
  • March 29-31, 1970: 21.4 inches
  • April 2-3, 1957: 20.8 inches
  • April 13-17, 1945: 20.2 inches
  • Dec. 20-21, 2006: 19.9 inches

Note: The December 1913 storm was an epic one for Colorado but not a record for Fort Collins, according to Russ Schumacher, director of the Colorado Climate Center. Fort Collins received 34.5 inches Dec. 1-5 that year, but no snow fell on Dec. 2 so it doesn’t meet the center’s definition of a single storm.

Source: Colorado Climate Center

Top 10 Fort Collins March snowstorms

  • March 18, 2003: 32.2 inches. This is the largest snowfall from a storm in city history.
  • March 29, 1970: 21.4 inches
  • March 13-14, 2021: 19.6 inches
  • March 30, 1988: 19.5 inches
  • March 6, 1990: 17 inches
  • March 8, 1992: 16.7 inches
  • March 14, 1956: 16.5 inches
  • March 6, 1932: 14.5 inches
  • March 23, 2016: 13.4 inches
  • March 20, 1952: 13.1 inches
  • Source: Colorado Climate Center

Plowing priorities: When can you expect to get your street cleared of snow

Reporter Miles Blumhardt looks for stories that impact your life. Be it news, outdoors, sports — you name it, he wants to report it. Have a story idea? Contact him at milesblumhardt@coloradoan.com or on Twitter @MilesBlumhardt. Support his work and that of other Coloradoan journalists by purchasing a digital subscription today.