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May in the Mile High City: Heavy snowfall forecast for Denver area

By Alex Sosnowski, AccuWeather, Accuweather.com

May 19 (UPI) -- The calendar may read mid-May but parts of Colorado, including the Denver metro area, are bracing for a storm that would make winter proud.

AccuWeather forecasters say the 93-degree AccuWeather RealFeel® Temperature that roasted the Mile High City on Thursday will be a distant memory by Friday and into the early part of the weekend.

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Winter storm watches and warnings were in effect across a large section of Colorado and northward into Wyoming, and for good reason. AccuWeather meteorologists are calling for 3 inches to 6 inches of accumulation in downtown Denver and some places on the southern and western side of the Denver metro area could see as much as a foot of snow pile up, enough to potentially result in widespread power outages.

Red flag warnings were in place for much of eastern Colorado on Thursday -- a sign of how changeable the spring weather can be in Colorado at this time of year.

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A rush of cold air will bring an end to temperatures in the 70- to 90-degree range, and it will also allow rain to transition into accumulating snow from Montana to Colorado as a storm arrives from the Northwest. In some locations, snowfall totals could even surpass a foot.

The cold push will overspread Colorado Thursday night and Friday.

Denver will plummet at least 50 degrees from high of 88 Thursday to the mid-30s Friday morning. Temperatures may struggle to rise more than a few degrees Friday before dipping to the upper 20s Friday night with snow in the forecast. The old record low of 31 that was set in 2019 is poised to fall.

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The AccuWeather RealFeel® Temperature for Thursday in Denver hit 90 before the dramatic cooldown is forecast to unfold later in the day.

Other cities in the region will also challenge record lows. In Cheyenne, Wyo., the record of 23 that has been in the books since 1882 may be rivaled Friday night. There could also be a hard freeze in the area.

Throw in some wind, rain and snow and AccuWeather RealFeel® Temperatures may dip well down into the 20s and even the teens at times.

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Predicting the snowfall accumulation in this part of the country, and at this time of year, poses a number of challenges, AccuWeather meteorologist Matt Benz said.

"There are variables such as the elevation differences in the region, duration and intensity of the snow, paved versus non-paved surfaces and the time of the day," Benz said.

During the middle to late spring, even at elevations of 5,000 feet above sea level or greater, sunshine goes a long way toward warming the ground and especially roads, parking lots and sidewalks. These surfaces tend to retain heat even after dark. Areas that are shaded from the sun will be much cooler than areas exposed to the sun and more likely to become slushy.

"Where the snow manages to come down hard for several hours late at night and first thing in the morning will be the places that pick up the greatest accumulation from the storm," Benz said.

A mixture of rain and wet snow is forecast to transition to all snow Friday night around Denver, so the weather could turn into a winter wonderland for the Major League Baseball game at Coors Field between the Colorado Rockies and New York Mets.

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At this time, AccuWeather meteorologists expect a general 3 inches to 6 inches of slushy snow to accumulate on non-paved surfaces around downtown Denver, while the foothills to the west and the Palmer Divide to the south could pick up a foot or more on non-paved surfaces from Friday night to early Saturday.

Fort Collins and Colorado Springs are also on the list of Colorado cities that are likely to pick up an accumulation of snow from the storm. Fort Collins may end up with 3 inches to 6 inches of snow, while Colorado Springs is likely to pick up a couple of inches of slush.

"In the highest elevations of the east-facing slopes of the Colorado Front Range, a general 1-2 feet of may fall from the storm," AccuWeather senior meteorologist Brett Anderson said. An AccuWeather Local StormMax™ of 36 inches of snow is foreseen over the high country.

While most of the snow will melt as it falls on paved surfaces in the lower elevations, some slushy conditions can develop in the foothills and over the Palmer Divide with slippery conditions and snow-covered roads possible over the passes in the mountains during Friday night and early Saturday.

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Forecasters say the tree canopy is another factor to consider with midspring snowstorms.

"With trees leafing out in the lower and intermediate elevations, even a couple of inches of wet, clinging snow can cause problems ranging from limbs breaking to power outages and blocked roads," AccuWeather senior storm warning meteorologist William Clark said.

Some people could wake up without power in their homes Saturday morning. Motorists that plan on being on the roads late Friday night to early Saturday may face hazards ranging from slippery conditions to fallen trees.

Snowfall is not uncommon in Colorado and the Denver area in May, forecasters say. The average snowfall for May in the Mile High City is 1.2 inches. The last storm to bring more than a few flakes of snow to the city was in 2019 when 3.7 inches of snow fell on May 20-21. In the Colorado Rockies, the average May snowfall ranges from several inches to a foot.

However, the transition back to winter will not be long-lasting. By the middle of next week, residents around Denver could be suffering from weather whiplash, as highs are forecast to settle back in the 70s by Wednesday. AccuWeather forecasters expect highs to then soar into the 80s heading into the Memorial Day weekend.

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An average high for this time of year in Denver is 74 F.

Cool blast to reach Texas, Illinois

The big wave of cooler air will keep flowing southeastward beyond the Rockies. Following highs in the 90s to near 100 much of this week, temperatures will tumble Friday night and Saturday across the southern Plains.

In Oklahoma City, after a high near 90 on Friday, temperatures will drop to the mid-60s by Saturday morning and hold fairly steady in the mid-60s throughout the day. High temperatures in Dallas will trend down from the mid-90s Friday to the mid-80s Saturday. Following a low in the 50s Saturday night, temperatures may be no higher than the 70s Sunday.

After a high of 100 degrees on Thursday, people in Amarillo, Texas, will feel the chill Friday night when temperatures plunge into the 40s.

The cool air will reach the Midwest this weekend, following severe thunderstorms in some locations to end the week. After a high in the lower 80s Friday in Chicago, temperatures may be held to the 50s much of Saturday.

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