Coloradoans Wearing Tank Tops and Shorts in December Wonder Where the Cold and Snow Are

Residents of Colorado and much of the western U.S. are experiencing temperatures warm enough to wear short sleeves in December, when in years past it would usually be snowing.

The Associated Press reported that Denver broke its record for latest measurable snowfall, which was set on November 21, 1934. If the weather stays this way for another week and a half, the city will also break its record of 235 days in a row without snow, set in 1887.

Though Denver residents have been enjoying the weather, with the temperature hitting a high of 73 degrees Fahrenheit on Wednesday (tying the 1973 record), climate scientists are worried about the effects of the heat and drought.

Keith Musselman, a hydrologist at the University of Colorado-Boulder, told AP that the dry weather could also affect the state's economy. It could impact not just the agriculture industry but also the state's winter tourism, as Rocky Mountain towns like Aspen and Vail are supposed to welcome tourists for skiing and other winter sports this time of year.

"Every day that goes by that we don't see precipitation show up and we see this year-to-year persistence of drought conditions, it just adds to a deficit," Musselman said. "And we continue to add to this deficit year after year, particularly in the Colorado River Basin."

According to AP, the western U.S. megadrought has been attributed to manmade climate change.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Downtown Denver, Colorado, warm, winter
Denver has experienced temperatures as high as 73 degrees Fahrenheit in the first week of December. Above, Derek Greenough basks in the sun at Cheesman Park Pavilion on December 1, 2021, in Denver. Brittany Peterson/AP Photo

Derek Greenough moved to Denver a few months ago and immediately bought a snowboard with the hope of soon hitting the slopes. But on Wednesday, he was enjoying the warm weather in a city park.

"I'm from central New York, so I expected it to be somewhat like there, which they have about 5 feet of snow right now," said Greenough, 27, who was wearing a tank top and exercise shorts. "Today I figured that on the first day of December it would be snowing, at least something, but here we are. It's a nice day....I don't think I'll be snowboarding anytime soon."

Frank Cooper, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Boulder, Colorado, said a La Nina weather pattern is pushing storm tracks farther north into the Pacific Northwest and Canada, allowing highs in the Denver area to reach into the 70s.

"Basically, we haven't had any systems really able to get into the area to cool us off," he said, noting that the average high in Denver this time of year is 45 degrees Fahrenheit (7 degrees Celsius).

Musselman likens mountain snowpack to a natural reservoir that holds moisture during the winter months and releases it in the spring and summer when demand from trees, plants, animals and humans is greater.

"That natural reservoir is being affected by climate change, and warming is reducing the amount of snow that's occurring in the mountains," he said.

The lack of snow in northern Utah is a rarity, but the record for the latest snowfall—set twice on Christmas Day in 1939 and 1943—is likely to stand with snow expected sometime late next week, National Weather Service meteorologist David Church said.

With most of Utah stuck in an extreme drought, a wet winter is more important than just making sure skiers have good runs.

"We need a good winter for snowpack out here, so hopefully we can turn the corner as we head into December and January," Church said.

The lack of snow has also led to a mild inversion in the Salt Lake City area, a phenomenon in Utah's urban corridor caused by weather and geography when cold, stagnant air settles in the bowl-shaped mountain basins, trapping automotive and other emissions and creating a brown, murky haze. Storms break up those inversions.

That has been the attitude at most Rockies ski resorts, which recognize that the season is just getting underway and that all hope is not lost. Even so, one popular Colorado ski town isn't leaving anything to chance.

With such a dearth of skiable terrain open at resorts across the state, Breckenridge is set to hold an annual festival downtown to honor Ullr, the Norse God of Snow and the Patron Saint of Skiers.

Lauren Swanson, a spokeswoman for Breckenridge's tourism office, described the four-day festival starting December 9 as "a town-wide snow dance," parade and party to thank Ullr for bountiful snow and to ask him to bring more.

"We're hopeful that our snow dances and all of our celebrations will inspire Ullr to bless us with a big storm soon. That's what this is all about. If the snow is not here, we'll bring it with our energy," she said. "I believe in it. I do think it works."

Downtown Denver, Colorado
The Mile High City has already shattered its 87-year-old record for the latest measurable snowfall set on November 21, 1934, and it's a little more than a week away from breaking an 1887 record of 235 consecutive days without snow. Above, the downtown Denver skyline on December 3, 2021. Thomas Peipert/AP Photo