October Snow: Will It Rival Deadly 1997 Storm?

Storms Similar In Origin, But Have Differences

One of eastern Colorado's worst and deadliest blizzards occurred Oct. 24 to Oct. 26, 1997. The storm slammed the region with snow measured in feet and winds that approached hurricane-force in some areas.

Much like the current storm, that storm from 12 years ago was caused by a closed area of low pressure over Utah that slowly drifted along the southern border of Colorado. The low pressure stalled out near the Texas panhandle and tapped into moisture from the Gulf of Mexico. The result was an extended period with snowfall rates of 1-2 inches per hour.

Along with the snow came strong northerly winds of 40-60 mph and bitter cold temperatures. Denver reached a low of 3 degrees on Oct. 26, 1997.

When the storm was over, snow totals ranged from 14 to 31 inches across the Denver metro area with 2 to 4 feet in the foothills.

Snow drifts were 4 to 10 feet deep and most area interstate highways were closed as travel became impossible. Thousands of travelers were stranded in shelters.

Over 100 cars were abandoned on Pena Boulevard as 4,000 people sought shelter at Denver International Airport.

The storm claimed the lives of four residents and thousands of livestock on Colorado's eastern plains.

See archived weather maps from the October 1997 storm.

In addition to the heavy snow across eastern Colorado, the 1997 storm produced severe winds along and west of the Continental Divide.

Some of the worst winds were northeast of Steamboat Springs in Routt County, near the Routt National Forest and Mount Zirkel Wilderness areas.

Thousands of trees fell as a result of the winds. In fact, it was the largest known forest blowdown ever recorded in the Rocky Mountain region with an areal extent of several miles wide and 20 miles long.

Comparison To 2009 Storm

The 1997 and 2009 storms are similar in terms of evolution and track.

And they may end up being similar in terms of the final snow totals, but there are some important differences to note between the two storm.

The 1997 storm took a different track once it crossed northern New Mexico than the currently forecasted track for the 2009 storm.

And it was much more dynamic because it had extremely cold air associated with it, both at ground-level and in the atmosphere. The bitterly cold air was one factor that helped produce the very strong winds in 1997.

Residents of the Steamboat Springs vicinity have called the 24/7 Weather Center with reports of strong winds with the current storm, but say they have been nothing like experienced in 1997.

Forecast Overnight, Thursday

For many, snow totals look like they will rival the 1997 storm, especially across the higher terrain west and south of Denver. But the two storms differ in the amount of wind that will be produced, the final track of the low pressure, and the amount of cold air in place.

Temperatures will not fall to record levels after this storm exits the region and the winds at the surface will not be as strong.

The National Weather Service in Boulder is currently monitoring northeast Colorado for potential blizzard conditions on Thursday. The area that could be impacted would be east of Interstate 25 and north of Interstate 70.

But if blizzard conditions do develop, they should not last as long as they did in 1997, and they should not be as widespread.

Stay With 7NEWS, TheDenverChannel.com

Any variation in the current path of the storm, even by as little as 75 miles, could mean significant changes to the forecast.

Stay with 7NEWS and Chief Meteorologist Mike Nelson for the latest weather developments.

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