In true Colorado style, Wednesday’s major storm surpassed initial predictions, upgrading from blizzard to full-on snow hurricane.
The storm appears to have intensified faster than expected, dropping more than 24 millibars in pressure within 24 hours, the threshold for what meteorologists call a “bombogenesis,” or a bomb cyclone.
Klint Skelly with the National Weather Service in Pueblo previously said models showed barometric pressure dropping only 15 points. But just as the blizzard warning was going into effect in Colorado Springs at 10 a.m. Wednesday, new models were showing pressures around 971.2 millibars, one of the lowest recorded pressures in the state’s history.
The reading was taken in La Junta, where state Climatologist Russ Schumacher previously reported a low of 975 millibars in 1973. The average pressure at sea level is 1,013.25 millibars.
Pressure continues to plummet in southeast CO as the cyclone intensifies...La Junta now down to altimeter setting of 28.81", SLP of 971.7 mb. I can't find evidence of a lower pressure (by either method) in Colorado in the past records (though we'll keep perusing the data) #cowx pic.twitter.com/XovFAH9GsQ— Russ Schumacher (@russ_schumacher) March 13, 2019
Later in the day, Schumacher reported even lower pressure in Lamar, which measured at 970.4 millibars.
Experts are still working to determine exactly how far pressure has dropped since the start of the storm and whether the state has set a record for low-pressure storms, but Skelly says preliminary information indicates “we did achieve bombogenesis.”
Initial readings taken over La Junta at 10 p.m. Tuesday showed the storm at 995.4 millibars. At 9 a.m., it had fallen to 971.2 millibars, Skelly said. And that’s likely as bad as it will get.
“It seems that the low has stopped deepening,” he said.
One record already set: rainfall. The National Weather Service in Pueblo reported 0.76 inches of rain just before noon Wednesday, surpassing the record of 0.43 inches in 1973.
While any term with the word “bomb” is alarming, it’s “less scary than it sounds,” according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
A bomb cyclone is just a scientific way of saying a storm is getting really bad, really fast.
A storm’s intensity is measured in pressure, with lower-pressure storms packing more punch. Landlocked areas like Colorado rarely see such low-pressure storms, as this type of phenomenon typically only develops over the ocean, such as during a hurricane.
So what does it mean for Colorado? Brace for wind — like category 1 and 2 hurricane-force winds.
Meteorologists were calling for wind gusts of up to 70 mph during the height of the storm, and reaching “bombogenesis” status doesn’t change that much. But it does mean winds could be a little stronger in eastern El Paso County than initially thought, Skelly said.
The Colorado Springs Airport recorded 97 mph winds Wednesday afternoon. The Denver International Airport was reporting wind gusts up to 80 mph, which might be among the strongest gusts recorded at the airport since it was established in 1996, Schumacher said in a tweet.
“Nearly all of the other gusts above 60 mph at DIA are from summer thunderstorms,” Schumacher said.
From a quick check of ASOS archives, that *might* be the strongest gust ever recorded at the Denver airport since it was established in 1996. (There's one stronger, but it looks suspect.) Nearly all of the other gusts above 60 mph at DIA are from summer thunderstorms @NWSBoulder https://t.co/G512TNP5nq— Russ Schumacher (@russ_schumacher) March 13, 2019
Blizzard conditions, caused by blowing snow, have begun in eastern El Paso County and along the Palmer Divide, Skelly said.
The Monument area is expected to receive up to a foot of snow; Colorado Springs could see only 3 to 5 inches, but the city is “the biggest uncertainty point,” Skelly said.
And then, as quickly as it came, the storm will die down rapidly Thursday and be gone by the afternoon. Stronger than normal winds will linger at about 25 mph, Skelly said.