The worst March storms in Colorado history

5:40 PM, Mar 24, 2010   |    comments
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A look back at National Weather Service records and in the 9NEWS archives found five March storms in the last 30 years to produce far more snow and chaos than the one over the last 24 hours.

March 3-4, 1981 produced the most significant storm of the year in Colorado, leaving roughly a foot in many areas from Denver east to the Kansas border. Wind gusts up to 43 miles per hour were the real story leaving some areas with three-foot drifts.

By the time the March 4-6, 1983 blizzard was done, the country had changed No. 1 hits on the Billboard Top 40, from "Baby, Come to Me" by Patti Austin and James Ingram to "Billie Jean" by Michael Jackson. Some areas like Southeast Aurora and Franktown were buried under two-plus feet. Numerous power and phone lines were knocked out by the wet snow. In typical Colorado tradition, some areas, most notably Boulder, just got rain. That month, Denver would record 30.5 inches of snow, making it the 4th snowiest March in history.

The Weather Service described what happened on March 6, 1990 as a "pummeling." As much as three inches an hour came down and there were three-foot drifts by lunchtime. Wind gusts at 58 mph led to Interstate 25 and Interstate 70 being closed just outside of Denver. Numerous rush hour commuters were caught on the Boulder Turnpike including then-Gov. Roy Romer (D-Colorado) and 9NEWS anchor/reporter Kim Christiansen. That highway remained closed until a few days later. Stapleton International Airport was shut down after a plane with 82 passengers skidded off the runway. They were all ok.

Just two years later, on March 8-9, 1992, a major blizzard hit the metro area. What started as rain on the morning of the 8th would quickly turn into snow and by the 9th, a foot and a half of snow had fallen in the foothills. I-70 east of Denver and I-25, both north and south of the city, were shut down.

The biggest March storm in history and the second biggest overall came on March 17-19, 2003. When it was all over, Denver had received 31.8 inches of heavy wet snow, but around the metro area, the totals were way higher. Rollinsville in Gilpin County received 87.5 inches. Parts of Evergreen in Jefferson County had 72.9 inches. The Red Feather Lakes area in Larimer County ended up with 64 inches. The city of Boulder had 51 inches. DIA closed officially for the first time since it opened in 1995 and part of its fabric roof in the main terminal tore open. Hundreds of structures were damaged. Sixteen avalanches were reported. I-70 was closed for three days, its longest closure in history. The Colorado Department of Transportation Web site received 25 million hits and a thousand of its workers took a week to clear the snow. Insurance claims totaling more than $93 million made it the most expensive storm in Colorado history.

The moral of the story is that it's March and it snows in Colorado. Keep the shovels handy, there's still a week left in the month.

(KUSA-TV © 2010 Multimedia Holdings Corporation)

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