Some of the most interesting weather in southern Colorado happens in the Pikes Peak Region, right where most people live!
You can thank the terrain for the rapid changes in weather often seen during the winter and the thunderstorms that form in the summer. Ranging from 14,115′ on top of Pikes Peak to 5,095′ along Black Squirrel Creek on the El Paso/Pueblo County line.
During the summer months America’s Mountain is a thunderstorm generating machine. Summer afternoons often feature air moving up the slopes of the 14er. This air typically forms clouds as it cools and lifts. On days where enough moisture and instability is present, thunderstorm updrafts often take off and explode as they ascend the mountain.
As a result, the slopes of Pikes Peak, including the Colorado Springs metro area, get more lightning strikes each year than other locations in Colorado. On average, between 4 and 6 lightning strikes occur in each square kilometer of this region each year.
Pikes Peak also plays an important role during the winter. The additional lift created as storms run into the Peak can produce several feet of snow above tree line, sometimes closing the Pikes Peak Highway. Wind directions into the peak will typically produce enhanced areas of snow on the upwind slopes, while the downwind slopes will be “shadowed” and receive lighter amounts of snow. This changes from storm to storm and is an area of focus for the FOX21 Storm Team.
The Palmer Divide is the hill you drive over on Interstate 25 between Colorado Springs and Denver. It separates the Arkansas River valley in southern Colorado from the South Platte River valley in northeast Colorado. Rising to 7,700′ in Black Forest, the divide is a significant terrain feature for weather during both the winter and summer. It’s a really big hill when you compare Denver’s elevation of 5,280′ and downtown Colorado Springs which sits at about 6,000′. It provides enough lift that it enhances snow amounts during the winter and helps to develop thunderstorms in the summer.
The differences in weather across the Pikes Peak region because of the terrain features in the area can be incredible. During classic high plains blizzards with strong north wind, parts of the Palmer Divide and the northern slopes of Pikes Peak can have 1′-2′ of snow with 5′-8′ drifts, while downtown Colorado Springs, less than 18 miles away, has only an inch or two of snow.