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Freezing drizzle events on the rise in Denver

Data from Denver International Airport shows freezing drizzle becoming more frequent.

DENVER — Freezing drizzle is not new to the Colorado Front Range but it doesn’t happen very often. We only see it a handful of times in a busy year, and some years we don’t see it at all.  

It has been historically less common in the winter months, although there have been more winter instances over the past 10 years. Most of the freezing drizzle events we do get, happen in the fall and the spring. November has had the most events since 2008.

The last time freezing drizzle fell in Denver, prior to Wednesday, was April of last year. Denver got three and half hours of drizzle a couple of days before our last snowfall of the season.  

The most reports of freezing drizzle in Denver came in the 2017-2018 season when it was reported 9 times.  

Denver had no reports of freezing drizzle during the 2009-10, 2010-11, and 2012-13 seasons. A season refers to the water year starting on Oct. 1.

There has not been a freezing drizzle recorded in Denver in the months of June through September. 

The automated weather station at Denver International Airport can report minute-by-minute changes in weather conditions including freezing drizzle.  

That station's data suggests that freezing drizzle events have been slightly increasing since 2008. The National Weather Service said there was an improvement made that year, so I pulled the data starting in the fall of 2009 for this comparison. 

21 freezing drizzle events have been reported over the last four and a half seasons - Fall 2017 to the current time of Jan. 20, 2022. While there were just 12 instances from 2008 to 2017. 

The number of events can change depending on how you define an event. These stats use a single storm as an event despite some events spanning more than one day and are not continuous throughout the event. 

Wednesday's freezing drizzle event was continuous for 7 hours and 57 minutes. The longest continuous event since 2008 was 22 hours and 59 minutes on Feb 1-2, 2017. 

The most active season was the 2017-18 season where nine separate events were recorded. Although the 2019-20 season saw the most amount of time with freezing drizzle recording 36 hours and 37 minutes in total. 

One thing that weather stations can't tell you is overall impact, and that may be what was most unique about Wednesday’s frizzle storm.

Credit: KUSA

In many events on the Front Range, the drizzle is patchy or the ice only accumulates on vehicles and buildings. On Wednesday, icy streets and sidewalks were reported from Colorado Springs all the way to Ft. Collins. 

Climate change might come to mind as a possible culprit. While there have been studies that show winter rain becoming more frequent at higher elevations, there have not been any studies specifically on freezing drizzle.  

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