By Sydney Janssen
Living in Colorado Springs, Colorado College students quickly realize how unpredictable the weather can be. The only guarantee is a chance of sun, with over 300 days of it on average each year. As students come to CC at the end of the summer, they can generally expect warm days; however, rain and thunderstorms are also common.
As fall comes along, snowfall generally begins; winter can then bring drastic temperature differences with frequent snowstorms, but also temperatures in the 80s. Snow and rain continue to fall into the spring, and more 80 degrees Fahrenheit days are common.
These irregular weather patterns are a result of Colorado’s high elevation and location. With an average elevation of 6,800 feet, the state encompasses approximately three-fourths of the land in the United States above 10,000 feet. Colorado has 59 14-ers and about 830 mountains between 11,000 and 14,000 feet. Within these front ranges, there are many peaks and valleys, and the orientation of the mountains and wind creates a constantly changing air flow through the region.
Weather varies throughout the state, but generally the climate is cool and dry. Thunderstorms are common, and Colorado receives over six days of hail each year, in addition to at least 40 confirmed tornadoes.
In the plains to the east, the weather is calmer with low humidity, sunshine, moderate winds, and occasional rain and snow. Directly adjacent to the Rocky Mountains, however, is quite different because the mountains have a huge impact on the climate.
CC students have an amazing view of Pikes Peak in their backyard, where elevations go from less than 5,000 feet to over 14,000 feet. At the foothills of these mountains, it is common to experience significant climate changes. This is a result of temperatures cooling or warming as they come down the mountain slope. When the air is warmed by wind rapidly descending from higher elevations, sudden temperature rises called the “Chinook Winds” are common. On the other hand, “Bora Winds” are a result of a strong cold front descending from mountain slopes.
As altitude increases, temperatures decrease while precipitation increases. At a high elevation, these changes strongly impact the local climate — combined with the orientation of the mountains and how the wind flows through them.
On top of that, cold air is denser, and will often stay in the valleys and create a temperature inversion. This means that the temperature is colder in the valley below and warmer in the mountains. So, the usual temperature decreases with elevation, and they are often concealed by temperature inversions in the night and during the winter.
The weather in Colorado is unpredictable throughout the state, but for CC students living at the foot of Pikes Peak, variable weather is more frequent. While the weather in western Colorado is colder, calmer, and less variable, the east of the Rockies sees drastic changes within a short amount of time.
Elevation and topography have the strongest impact on the local climate in Colorado. With valleys below 7,000 feet to peaks above 14,000 feet, all aspects of the climate are affected, including temperature, humidity, precipitation, and wind.
CC students can almost always expect to see sunshine throughout the year, but should constantly prepare themselves for quickly changing weather conditions and expect the unexpected. Layer up!