Denver’s biggest May snowstorms

It doesn’t snow in Denver every May. But when it does, it can pile up — sometimes to the tune of a foot or more of accumulation.

May snowstorms are just a small part of what makes Denver’s weather so interesting and unique. About 70% of Mays (96 out of 137 in Denver’s official meteorological records) have featured at least some measurable snow. Most May snows tend to be fairly minor, but as you’ll see here, sometimes a good walloping can fall — often threatening trees, power lines and your garden.

And of late, there’s perhaps been a noticeable trend toward snowstorms later in the spring season. That included a fairly unique, record-setting four-inch snowstorm last May 21-22, including Denver’s latest measurable snowfall in nearly 20 years.

So with that all in mind, here’s a look at Denver’s top-five May snowstorms on record:

5. May 20-21, 2019

As part of a recent run of late-season snowstorms, 2019’s 3.7-inch snowstorm stands out. While the snowstorm’s total won’t stick out compared to some of the other storms on this list, it does stand out for being the biggest May snowstorm in recent times.

To get snow in the back half of May, it typically takes a fairly unique combination of an unseasonably deep cold plunge, colder-than-average temperatures before a storm and nighttime snowfall. This was one of those events that combined all three, and the result was a heavy, wet snowfall along the Front Range just a few days before Memorial Day.

4. May 26-27, 1950

This one stands out for just how remarkably late into May this took place. Denver’s obviously no stranger to spring snowstorms, but usually, they’ll take place in the first half of the month. By late May, the sun angle gets so high that even if temperatures are below freezing, it’s almost impossible to accumulate snowfall

This 1950 storm, though, dumped a stunning 10.7 inches of snow over two days, including 9.3 inches on the 25th. Temperatures barely dropped to freezing (the low on the 25th was 31 degrees), but it was just cold enough to lead to Denver’s biggest snowstorm of this magnitude this late in the season.

It also led to Denver’s second-snowiest May on record, with 13.7 inches of total snowfall accumulation through the duration of the month.

Fortunately, Memorial Day came late in 1950. It was on the 29th, and all the snow had melted by then, and it even hit 70 degrees.

3. May 13-14, 1912

Most May snowfalls are smaller-scale events early in the month, leading to a sloppy few inches of wet snow on colder surfaces like car tops and grass. But this 1912 May snowstorm not only took place in the middle of the month, it also produced over a foot of snow over a two-day span.

A whopping 12.4 inches of snow fell in Denver on those two days back in 1912. Four days after the storm, it was 86 degrees. Talk about meteorological whiplash.

2. May 5-6, 1978

Like the 1912 snowstorm, this one dropped 12.4 inches of snow in just two days (and just a few days after an inch of snow had fallen). The 13.5 inches of snow this May made it Denver’s third-snowiest May on record.

Not only was this a substantial snowstorm, it was also a decidedly cold May snowstorm. Temperatures dropped as low as 23 degrees just after the last flakes fell on May 7th, making it one of the coldest May temperatures ever recorded in Denver.

1. May 1-5, 1898

There are May snowstorms, then there’s the May snowstorm of 1898. A whopping 15.5 inches of snow kicked off that May, and it lasted for five full days! Temperatures didn’t drop below 29 degrees throughout the entire duration of the storm, meaning the snow was probably of the heavy and wet variety. Those kinds of snows are often associated with widespread tree damage, and that was probably the case with this snowstorm.

Needless to say, 1898 ended up as Denver’s snowiest May on record, all thanks to this one storm. Also, naturally, two days after the foot-plus snowstorm, it hit 65 degrees.

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