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A look back at Denver's biggest snowstorms as a significant winter storm heads our way

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Posted at 6:49 PM, Mar 09, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-10 17:09:51-05

DENVER — It was called Denver’s big snow. On December 1, 1913 snow began falling and didn’t let up for five days. When all was said and done, more than 45 inches of snow had accumulated on Denver streets. It was the biggest snowstorm to hit the city in recorded history.

As the city prepares for what could potentially be a significant winter storm, we look back at the biggest storms to hit the Denver area.

This week’s storm is expected to move into the western part of the state late Tuesday into Wednesday, bringing a mix of rain and snow. This precipitation will be the leading edge of what could become a very strong storm system for Colorado by the end of the week.

This storm is showing good potential to become a big snow producer for the mountains, foothills, I-25 corridor and the Eastern Plains by the end of the week. It is still too early for very specific snowfall estimates, but it could end up earning an entry in the National Weather Service’s list of the top 24 snowstorms to hit the Denver area.

Here are those numbers as of Tuesday. The 24 biggest Denver snowstorms (1881-Present) as compiled by the National Weather Service:

1. 45.7 inchesDec 1-5, 1913
2. 31.8 inchesMar 17-19, 2003
3. 30.4 inchesNov 2-4, 1946
4. 23.8 inchesDec 24, 1982
5. 23.0 inchesApr 23, 1885
6. 22.7 inchesOct 20-23, 1906
7. 21.9 inchesOct 24-25, 1997
8. 21.5 inchesNov 26-27, 1983
9. 20.7 inchesDec 20-21, 2006
10. 19.3 inchesJan 29-31, 1883
11. 19.0 inchesApr 24-25, 1935
12. 18.7 inchesMar 5-6, 1983
13. 18.5 inchesMar 20-22, 1944
14. 18.2 inchesApr 17-19, 1920
15. 18.0 inchesApr 19-20, 1907
16. 18.0 inchesMar 31-Apr 1, 1891
17. 17.7 inchesNov 19-21, 1979
18. 17.3 inchesApr 2, 1957
19. 16.9 inchesMar 20-21, 1952
20. 16.8 inchesApr 20-22, 1933
21. 16.5 inchesSep 26-28, 1936
22. 16.0 inchesOct 3-5, 1969
23. 15.9 inchesFeb 2-4, 2012
24. 15.8 inchesApr 26-27, 1972

That 1913 storm shut down the city for days and it wasn't fully back on its feet for an entire month, according to the Denver Library Genealogy, African American & Western History Resources. City workers removed roughly six billion cubic feet of snow!

An article written by Brian K. Trembath on the library's website states the event caught the city off-guard. It started out with just a few inches a day, but by the fourth day, it began to dump, shutting down the city's entire streetcar system.

"Fortunately, Denver's other utilities, including phone systems, the electrical grid, and the water system worked without major problems," Tremboth wrote.

Photos on the Denver Library's archive shows just how much snow fell and how the city dealt with what -- unbeknownst to them at the time -- would be the city's biggest snowstorm.

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People walk down a shoveled pathway on a residential street in Denver, Colorado after the snowstorm of 1913. Shows snow packed lawns and snow covered houses.
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A huge snow pile sits on a street near stores and the Hotel Metropole after the 1913 snowstorm in Denver, Colorado. A sign on the hotel reads, "Hotel Metropole, Absolutely Fire Proof."
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View of men shoveling snow in front of the Denver Public Library on West Colfax and Bannock Street after the great snowstorm of 1913 in Denver, Colorado. Shows horse-drawn wagons, men, and the Capitol building.
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A snowman wears a hat as it sits in the driver's seat of probably a Model T Ford after the snowstorm of 1913 in Denver, Colorado. Pedestrians walk down sidewalk near piles of snow.
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View of the Denver City Tramway Company Lawrence Street trolley in the great snowstorm of 1913 in Denver, Colorado. Shows cars numbered, "95," "(?)85," and "(?)8."