ForecastRecord Cold Temperatures Possible Thursday and Friday; Lesser Impacts in Southwestern ColoradoA powerful arctic airmass is impacting the United States, bringing snow and record cold temperatures to our region.

Published Tue Dec 20, 2022 - 10:27pm MST • Updated Thu Dec 22, 2022 - 1:29pm


  • Thomas Horner


  • A cold front barrels into Colorado on Wednesday afternoon / evening, mainly impacting the Front Range and high plains.
  • Heavy banded snowfall impacts the central and northern mountains from Wednesday afternoon to Thursday morning.
  • Very strong wind gusts into Thursday, with wind chills of -50 and visibility / snow squall concerns, up to 90mph on some ridges. These gusts could reach the Front Range on Wednesday night.
  • The Front Range could potentially see record low temperatures Thursday / Thursday night.

Forecast Discussion


Here's an animation we made showing just how strong of a cold front we're talking about (and how far-reaching its impacts are):

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On Wednesday afternoon/evening, a very powerful cold front drops into Colorado (and continues all the way to the Gulf of Mexico!). Temperatures will plummet 30-40 degrees in just an hour or two.

The front will not have a particularly strong impact on central and southern Colorado, particularly the western slope, but there will still be a cooldown.

The most significant impacts will be along the Front Range (Fort Collins, Denver, Colorado Springs) and on the high plains.

It's quite possible that on Thursday, Denver's high temperature doesn't get out of the negatives, and then drops to -20 or so overnight. This would be record-setting, or close to it (at least for the particular date):

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A more conservative outlook is highs in the low teens on Thursday, with lows in the negative teens.

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Right now modeled snow totals actually look pretty reasonable to us:

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Tonight, expecting scattered pockets of light to moderate snow but likely no exciting reports tomorrow morning at the ski areas. 2-4" isn't totally out of the question for some of the northern mountains, but not likely.

The heaviest snow is coming 5pm Wednesday (or a bit earlier) to 5am Thursday (with some continuing lingering snow as we remain in the jet right entrance region).

The setup: a strong jet max moves over the region, and is directly over Colorado on Wednesday night. Jet streaking will drive banded snowfall as the modestly moist atmosphere is wringed out.

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This banded snowfall is difficult to predict and can really upset the forecast. For instance, some high resolution models have a couple good bands impacting the Front Range -- but they could be quite narrow. In one 25 mile stretch from north to south you may see 1", up to 6", and back down to 1" again.

For the Front Range north of Colorado Springs generally 1-3" but banding will deliver up to 6" to a few lucky spots (currently favoring somewhere between Denver and Fort Collins).

In the mountains, snow coverage is a little better, thanks in part to orographics, so not expecting as disparate of totals.

For areas along and north of I-70, we think that 5-10" is a pretty safe bet, but some unlucky areas (missing out on a good band or two, and poor orographics) could come in at ~3". The largest bust potential is near Breck / Hoosier Pass.

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The most uncertainty in the forecast is for Steamboat, the Park Range, and further east towards Cameron Pass -- we'd say that they're certainly favored for highest totals but given their proximity to much drier air, double digit totals are more of a "boom scenario" than a near-certainty.

The low-end for Steamboat is still 5" like a lot of areas to the south, maybe a bit higher on Buffalo Pass and over at Cameron Pass. The high end is likely much higher than anywhere else in the state, up to 16" or so...but not feeling too optimistic about it. Just a huge spread for this area with booms and busts across various models (central CO is more certain).

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Significantly further south of I-70, totals drop off. Maybe 2-7" for the Elk Mountains (Aspen Area) and parts of the Sawatch.

In the San Juans: 1-5" in the western part of the mountain range (Telluride, Silverton), and only 0-3" for the eastern part (Wolf Creek).

Sangres also not getting much except the northern part of the range (up to 4-5" or so).

Strong Winds

With this snow, due to the jet stream being overhead, there will be very strong winds. Some areas could get 90mph gusts from Wednesday afternoon to Thursday afternoon.

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Overall, pretty consistent 50-60mph gusts.

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When associated with heavy bands of snowfall, we could see snow squall warnings and near whiteout conditions. Travelling in the mountains during this storm will be very difficult, more difficult than your typical winter storm.

On Wednesday night the Front Range urban corridor could also see gusts in excess of 50mph.

This also means wind chills could be as low as -50 at times.

Longer Term

Looking forward, snow may continue off and on in the northern mountains into the weekend, with several more inches possible from Friday through Sunday.

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Warmer next week, but seeing a strong signal for a decent snowfall event near mid/late next week.

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Thomas Horner

Thomas is an endurance athlete and ski mountaineer based out of Golden, Colorado. His background is in software engineering, meteorology, and cartography, and the rest of his free time is devoted to playing in heavy metal bands.

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