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Remembering the bomb cyclone of March 2019

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Posted at 8:01 PM, Mar 13, 2024
and last updated 2024-03-14 13:34:40-04

EL PASO COUNTY, Colo. — On March 13, 2019, a storm of historic proportions slammed into the state of Colorado.

Even with an army of city, county and state workers trying their best to clear the roads, thousands were still left stranded.

What is a "bomb cyclone?"

In more scientific terms, a bomb cyclone describes the rapid deepening of a low-pressure system by 24 milibars (mb) in 24 hours, known as bombogenesis. The March 13, 2019 low deepened by 33 mb in 24 hours - well exceeding that criteria. Normal sea level pressure is a touch above 1000 mb, so this represents a 3% drop in air pressure relative to normal. That might not sound like much, but it set a record. The 970 mb low over Lamar, Colorado is the lowest recorded pressure in our state. Bombogenesis is common in Nor' Easters developing on the east coast, but is extremely uncommon in Colorado.

Storm strength correlates with how deep a low pressure center is. Lower pressures result in stronger winds. So, record strength low - record winds, which gusted from 80 - 100 mph with this storm. The Colorado Springs Airport measured a gust of 96 mph - as strong as an EF1 tornado.

This storm formed and strengthened due to very strong temperature gradients over the state.

A temperature gradient is simply a change in temperatures over a distance. Today as a strong winter storm again approaches, we have a significant temperature gradient.
When temperature gradients tighten (warm and cold get closer together), storms form.

2019 was also an El Nino year - as is 2024. During El Ninos, Colorado tends to get more springtime snow due to changes in the placement of our Jet Stream.

In a strong El Niño, Colorado gets more springtime moisture

What impacts did this storm cause?

The Denver International Airport (DIA) was hit hard and after canceling around 1,400 flights, there were virtually no flights let in or out that Wednesday. 5,000 passengers wound up having to spend the night there due to all the cancellations.

Several major highways and interstates were closed as a result of this cyclone, including:

  • I-25 from Colorado Springs to Denver
  • I-25 from Denver to the Wyoming border
  • I-76
  • I-70 from Denver to east of the Nebraska and Kansas borders

Several car accidents occurred throughout the storm and many motorists were stranded in their cars. There were 1,500 people stranded in northern El Paso county alone.
The National Guard was activated to help in more than 100 search and rescue operations.

Many trees and power poles were blown over, causing more than 445,000 people to lose power.

Numerous schools and businesses closed down that Wednesday and stayed closed through Thursday.

One state trooper did die as a result of this storm along I-76 northeast of Denver.

What was El Paso County's response to this cyclone?

On March 19, 2019, El Paso County Commissioners came together to talk about their response during the storm and how to continue dealing with its aftermath.

Several agencies replied that they were still trying to clear roads of downed trees and branches. Others were busy repairing power lines and doing an inventory of their emergency response services.

Overall this cyclone and the damage it caused would cost El Paso taxpayers hundreds of thousands due to all of the overtime required to keep street crews and other departments ready to respond on a 24/7 basis.

The Office of Emergency Management replied that they were still removing snow and recovering and repairing signs, particularly in the far eastern sections of the county.

The county crews that were performing rescue operations talked about how difficult it was to reach stranded motorists and abandoned cars in remote areas of the county where visibility was near zero.

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