At 4 p.m. Wednesday afternoon, Denver was basking in 80-degree warmth under mostly sunny skies.
Fewer than two hours later, meteorological mayhem swept through.
An apocalyptic-looking dust storm, or a haboob, moved through Denver on Wednesday night, turning area skies from blue to brown in a matter of minutes. The storm was part of a long-anticipated powerful cold front, but other factors helped create a relatively rare dust storm along the Front Range on Wednesday afternoon.
The haboob was caused by a variety of factors, the first and primary one being the strong cold front that dropped temperatures by 32 degrees in just two hours. With a considerably colder, denser air mass sharply contrasted with a much warmer one, the two colliding air masses created a boundary. Once the colder, heavier air suddenly moved through that boundary, it immediately rushed toward to ground, kicking up wind gusts as high as 56 mph at Denver International Airport. And as described in detail already this week, Wednesday’s front was an especially strong one that could break records.
But another factor played into making the Front Range turn into a rush hour dust bowl: the recent dry stretch. A drier end to summer and start of fall have led to short-term drought conditions across a good chunk of Colorado. While most of the Front Range isn’t considered to be in a drought, the recent dry stretch has allowed dust to accumulate, as a lack of recent rainfall has failed to pat down the ground.
Finally, the fact that Wednesday’s front was the first sharp front of the season probably helped kick up a little extra dust as well. Throw in the fact that the dust storm happened to coincide with sunset, and an orange tint was added into the sea of brown.
Here’s what it looked like on the ground:
Colorado weather: When, where and how much snow you can expect to see during tomorrow’s storm
Denver weather: Temperatures likely to drop more than 60 degrees in 36 hours this week
Decker fire’s heavy smoke raises air quality and health concerns, blaze at more than 6,300 acres
Chaotic Denver weather ahead: Frost advisory, heightened wildfire risk, snow and temperatures in the 80s all in the forecast this week
Denver weather: Cooler temperatures, rain drizzle forecast in the city, with high fire danger continuing in the mountains
Haboob passing through @WeatherNation headquarters! #cowx pic.twitter.com/4BDM0z2TBd
— Steve Glazier (@SteveGlazier) October 10, 2019