They’re not just annoying. High winds increase fire danger and take a bite out of Colorado agriculture and tourism.
May 29, 2022
The wind rages and blowing sand cascades off the dunes behind them at the Great SandDunes National Park (John McEvoy, Special to The Colorado Sun)
How to choose the best descriptors for Colorado’s winds this year?
Roof-lifting. Flag-shredding. Tree-felling. Truck-flipping. Sandblasting. Patio-jumbling. Skin-exfoliating. Eye-watering. Highway-shrouding. Window rattling. Fire spreading.
Let’s ask a man not known for hyperbole.
“I have never, ever, ever seen wind like this,” said John Salazar, a former politician who has been weather watching at his family’s farm in the San Luis Valley for most of his 69 years. In a fit of emphasis, Salazar added another, “never ever.”
From the wind-scoured fields in southeast Colorado to the gust-buffeted vineyards of the Grand Valley, from the penthouse-shaking gales in the Denver metro area to lift-tossing blasts at ski areas, the wind lately has become one of the most talked about and maligned weather topics in a state that is famous for going with the flow of wait-five-minutes-and-it-will-change weather.
That old saw about March coming in like a lamb and going out like a lion, or vice-versa, is outdated. This year, March blew in and blew out like a banshee. April went on to blow down records. May hasn’t been much calmer, but those stats aren’t compiled yet; so far, May winds are only imprinted in the minds of the wind-buffeted masses.
The Colorado Climate Center declared April the windiest on record. “Relentless” is the unscientific word the center’s monthly report used to describe the wind. The National Weather Service in Boulder called it among the windiest April in two decades. The three National Weather Service offices in Colorado issued 62 red-flag warnings in April — the most since record keeping began in 2006. Last year, there were 37. Denver International Airport put April in its record books as “windiest ever.” On a single afternoon in late April, 44 flights were delayed when a “gustnado” — a heinous wind burst that develops in a thunderstorm — blew over DIA.
“The wind has just been so incessant,” said retired Grand Junction meteorologist Joe Ramey. He and his wife delayed planting their usual mega garden, waited to pull the covers off their swamp coolers to keep from filling the house with dust, canceled patio dinners to instead hunker at the inside dining table, and confined bike rides to early mornings — all because of winds that barely let up for two months around Grand Junction.
Besides the most serious wind effects of wildfires, drought and structure damage, the gales this spring have also put a kibosh on some tourism. Who wants to sit on a winery patio sipping sparkling rose when the wind blows the bubbles into the firmament? How many paddleboarders are willing to take to the water when gusts are bowling over watercraft like play toys in a wading pool? What kind of fun is it when the wind turns cycling into a stationary bike experience? It’s easier to stay inside on the Peloton. Is it possible to rave about scenery that is shrouded in a brown haze of blown dirt?