Photo Credit: The Gazette

Photo Credit: The Gazette

As a major winter storm bears down on Colorado, expected to drop around five feet of snow on parts of the Front Range, many have made comparisons to another major winter weather event that happened more than a decade ago.

It's been 18 years since the Blizzard of 2003 crippled the Centennial State, slamming the Denver metro area with more than 2 feet of snow and dropping up to 82 inches of fresh powder in the Front Range foothills nearby

The snow fell for three days straight, starting on St. Patrick’s Day in 2003 as it stretched from Monday, March 17th through Wednesday, March 19th. 

Here's how the 2003 snowstorm unfolded.

Snowfall totals ranged from 3 to 7 feet in the areas that were hit the hardest. This included the northern mountains east of the Continental Divide, the Front Range Foothills, and the Palmer Divide.

Per the National Weather Service, here some of most impressive storm totals. 

  1. Fritz Peak and Rollinsville: 87.5 inches
  2. Cabin Creek: 83 inches
  3. 3 miles southwest of Bergen Park: 74 inches
  4. Arapahoe Basin and 8 miles northwest of Evergreen: 73 inches
  5. Coal Creek Canyon: 72 inches
  6. Georgetown: 70 inches
  7. Allenspark: 67 inches
  8. 10 miles west-northwest of Idaho Springs: 66 inches
  9. Bear Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park: 65 inches
  10. 3 miles west of Jamestown: 63 inches
  11. Loveland Ski Area: 62 inches
  12. 3 miles north of Blackhawk: 60 inches
  13. Eldora Ski Area: 55 inches at
  14. 8 miles west of Salida: 54 inches
  15. Copper Mountain: 53 inches

Denver saw 31.8 inches of snow in the Blizzard of March 2003, resulting in major travel delays across the city. The three-day snowstorm ranks as Denver's second-biggest snowstorm with records dating back to 1881, according to the National Weather Service. The title for largest snowstorm ever in Denver goes to the Blizzard of 1913, which dumped a record-setting 45.7 inches of snow over the Mile High City in five days from December 1-5.

According to storm data from the National Weather Service, up to 135,000 people lost power during the 2003 blizzard. The snow also resulted in a number of road closures due to heavy snow and avalanche activity, stranding travelers and skiers around the state. The avalanche danger spiked so much that it actually forced the evacuation of mountain town residences between Bakerville and Silver Plume.

In one case, a military helicopter delivered food to more than 250 skiers stranded at Eldora Ski Area after an avalanche cut off access to the resort. 

The tent-like roof of Denver International Airport buckled under the weight of the snow, ripping a 40 foot gash through a portion of the tent and forcing a partial terminal evacuation.

The destroyed roof wasn't the only issue at DIA either – major travel snags also occurred. As the airport eventually closed, it left 4,000 travelers stranded.

Two people were injured in Colorado from roofs collapsing and two others died in Aurora from heart attacks after shoveling snow. 

In response to the storm, the National Guard deployed 40 soldiers and 20 heavy-duty vehicles to rescue those that were left stranded by the heavy snow.

While everything seemed to basically shut down in the state, some Coloradans kept moving. Residents trekked through the heaps of fresh snow to get to the grocery store in true Colorado fashion with cross-country skis and snowshoes.

Nearly 20 years later, the blizzard of March 2003 is still one that brings back vivid memories for some. One of the costliest weather events on record for the state, it resulted in an estimated $93 million in damage.

As a major weekend storm sets up to hit the state, many Coloradans are left hoping for the snow to ease the state of drought, while also keeping their fingers crossed that the level of damage caused by the 2003 blizzard can be avoided.

Editor's Note: Travel is strongly discouraged. If you must go out, use caution, take it slow, and follow chain and traction laws activated around the state. Check CDOT’s Facebook, Twitter (@coloradodot) or cotrip.org for closures and delays on highways and roads across Colorado.

Breanna Sneeringer writes about news, adventure, and more for OutThere Colorado as a Digital Content Producer. She is an avid adventure seeker and wildflower enthusiast. Breanna joined OutThere Colorado in September 2018.

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