March is normally Denver's snowiest month — but not this year.
The five-day forecast calls for sunny skies each and every day, and if that trend continues, this month could go down as the city's driest March on record.
Dry, sunny days have their darker side, as the fire danger begins to grow and concern mounts on the long-term snowpack outlook.
The average precipitation for the month is more than 1¼ inches — and in an average year, the city receives more than 10 inches of snow. In March 1992, a sunny day with temperatures in the 50s was suddenly replaced by a thunderstorm followed by a blizzard that dumped more than a foot of snow.
And in 2003, Denver was totally buried in powder. Nearly 3 feet of snow fell on the city during a three-day storm that began March 17, including nearly 2 feet in just 24 hours. Residents of the foothills reported between 5 and 7 feet of snow, and insurance claims surpassed $33 million.
Overall, five of Denver's 16 biggest snowfalls have pelted the city in March.
But so far this year, Denver has received only 0.03 inches of precipitation, according to the National Weather Service, and just a trace amount of snow on March 1, 2 and 7.
"We are looking at the top spot" in the record book for the driest March if the bone-dry weather pattern continues, said Kari Bowen, a meteorologist with the Weather Service.
The driest March recorded was in 1908, with about 0.10 of an inch of precipitation.
On a sunny Friday, people and their dogs were romping in city parks, and downtown workers were flocking to tables outside to eat their lunch alfresco.
"It's perfect," said Susie Davis, enjoying Washington Park. "I'm from California — it kind of makes you homesick."
And Jonathan Slusser, in the park with his Labrador, Mufasa, and friends, called the weather "awesome."
"I'd like to go snowboarding," he said, "but I'll sacrifice snowboarding for playing Frisbee."
On the negative side, the increasing fire danger in the eastern half of Colorado prompted fire managers to station a large aerial tanker outside Denver earlier this week.
The Rocky Mountain Area Coordination Center said the twin-engine P2V Neptune now based at Broomfield's Rocky Mountain Airport can carry up to 2,000 gallons of fire retardant.
A smaller single-engine tanker capable of carrying 800 gallons also has been activated and is at the same airport. That plane is under contract with the state Forest Service.
Jim Fletcher of the Rocky Mountain Area Coordination Center said it's unusual to have firefighting aircraft deployed this early in the season, but fire danger is "high" in eastern Colorado and along the Front Range. It could reach "extreme" in southeastern Colorado in the coming days, he said.
The mountains are dry too. Breckenridge, which averages 26 inches of snow in March, is on pace for less than 7, and some rental shops already are stocking bicycles as well as skis, 9News reported.
Earlier precipitation has allowed snowpack to remain at about 71 percent of normal across the state, but the projections from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Natural Resources Conservation Service don't look good if things remain dry.
Snowpack and reservoir levels may plummet, and stream-flow runoff this spring and summer looks as if it will be considerably lower than average.
Not only is it unseasonably dry in Denver, but it also continues to be unseasonably warm.
The temperature Friday afternoon climbed to 76 degrees in the city, tying the record for the day set in 1967.
The forecast high in Denver today is 78 degrees, which would break the record of 76 set in 1896.
Sunday will be another unseasonably warm day in Denver, with a high of 80 degrees forecast. The record high for March 25 is 75 degrees, set in 1998. And the highest temperature ever recorded in March was 84 degrees on March 26, 1971.
During a Frisbee break, Slusser noted the downside of warm days.
"It's probably going to be extremely hot this summer," he said. "That's what I'm not looking forward to. This is probably going to mean 100-degree heat this summer."
Staff writer Yesenia Robles and The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Kieran Nicholson: 303-954-1822, firstname.lastname@example.org