Colorado weather: The new normals are coming

Colorado weather: The new normals are coming

We have all been getting used to a lot of “new normals” in the past year. Now it is time to get used to some more in the weather department.

Meteorologists everywhere will reference “normal” when discussing the weather. For example, today’s normal high in Denver is 43 degrees and the normal low is 17 degrees. If the mercury rose to 50 degrees, we would say that the high in Denver was 7 degrees above normal.

These climate “normals” are used to compare observations to something that is considered to be typical in a specific location on a given day or in the course of a year. But how are they calculated?

In the weather world, “normal” ultimately is based off what has happened over a 30-year period of record keeping. The National Weather Service compiles all weather observations for every city from those 30 years, averages everything together, and then performs a smoothing to the data to eliminate any oddities. The result is what meteorologists refer to as climatology.

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The most recent period of record that climatology has been based off of is 1981 to 2010. The NWS re-calculates these normals every 10 years so that climatology is always based off of a relatively recent 30-year period. With 2020 about to come to a close, that means that it is time for some new “normals.”

January 2021 will be the first month that weather records nationwide will be compared against a 1991-to-2020 climatology, instead of 1981 to 2010. Said another way, it essentially means that the NWS will replace the 1980s with the 2010s in the computations for historical averages.

We can use January as an example. Januarys in the 1980s in Denver had an average snowfall around 7 inches, with a mean monthly temperature close to 31 degrees. In the 2010s, Denver averaged closer to 6 inches of snow in January, with a mean monthly temperature of 32.5 degrees. The net result will be a slightly higher “normal” monthly temperature and a slightly lower “normal” monthly snowfall.

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