Coloradoans love their mountains, they love their beer and they love their Broncos. But above all, Coloradoans love to recount their storms.
“It’s almost a right of passage,” said Lorraine Bridges, 77, Arvada. “The more storms you’ve lived through the more you have to tell. I feel like I’ve been through all of them.”
Bridges is an anomaly in modern Colorado terms. A lifetime Coloradoan who grew up on the Western Slope before settling with her husband Andrew near the foothills in the late 1960s. She has seen most of the state’s great storms from the Christmas Eve blizzard of 1982 to the “don’t call it Spring” pummeling of 2003.
With last week’s bomb cyclone shutting down a great part of the state and Wyoming many Coloradoans have, again, started to reflect on storms past, including some of the largest the state has seen.
Christmas Eve, 1982
“I woke up Christmas morning to an exquisite, sunny Winter wonderland,” said Carol Gannett of the Christmas Eve blizzard of 1982 that dumped 23.8 inches on Denver and even more in some areas across the state. “I was in Colorado Springs, it was the most ‘Christmasy’ holiday I ever had. There was nothing moving out there except a few brave souls in Jeeps.”
Similar to the bomb cyclone storm that swept through the state last week, the blizzard of 1982 contained blinding winds and snowfall for well over 24 hours.
The timing of the storm meant no school closures and fewer people having to brave the storm to get to work, but it did ground several flights at Stapleton International Airport (Denver’s main airport at the time) leaving many holiday travelers stranded.
“I was stuck at my job for three days because the roads were buried that long,” said Mike Skaggs. “(I was paid) time and a half for most of the days. I got triple time for Christmas and free access to the boss’s refrigerator full of Christmas party food.”
“We had been training hard all season and were tapering that week specifically to run on Saturday,” recounted Luke Michaels of the 1997 CHSAA state cross country meet in Pueblo that was cancelled the weekend of October 24, 1997 due to the unprecedented 22 inches of snow that fell that weekend. “We were ready to run and then, boom, we had nowhere to run.”
Again travelers were stranded due to the storm shutting down runways and grounding passenger jets, but those stranded passengers were now stuck at the brand new Denver International Airport where there were no hotels nearby.
The never-ending Winter
The ninth largest storm in Denver’s history was the blizzard of December 20-21, 2006 that left 21-plus inches in Denver and throughout the metro area. That storm, however, has a different distinction as it was the catalyst to 61 consecutive days of one inch of snow or more on the ground.
“I don’t think I saw the road of our cul-de-sac until March,” said Bridges. “The big storm was fun because it was another white Christmas, but it seemed like every weekend after that, more snow would fall and it was just too cold for any of it to melt.”
Almost Spring Thing 2003
One of the most notorious storms in the state’s history was March 17-19, 2003. The storm left 32 inches of heavy, wet Spring snow across the state. Roofs caved in, trees fell under the weight and the foothills saw up to 82 inches.
“It snowed a lot and then it snowed some more,” said Steve Smith, 67, a Highlands Ranch resident at the time. “My wife had taken the girls away for Spring Break and my older kids were in college, so I was left to manage the damage on my own. I remember looking out my window and watching as half of our Aspen fell to the ground. I was lucky our roof didn’t do the same.”
Though the most recent slew of storms may have been some of the worst many current Colorado residents have seen in the state, Bridges knows, “they ain’t seen nothing.”