Weather and Climate of the Sawatch Range

The Sawatch Range being located in the center of a continent has as expected a continental climate. This means there are large differences in temperature between summer and winter with an abundance of sunshine. The dry air combined with high altitude (8000 to 14000 ft above sea level) results in large temperature differences between day and night as well. Solar radiation can be very intense in the summertime. One moment one is warm in short sleeves and getting sunburned and the next as the sun goes behind a cloud one has to quickly put on a jacket.

The Sawatch Range straddles the continental divide and hence straddles a climatic divide as well with respect to the distribution of precipitation during the year. On the west coast most of the precipitation occurs during the winter with little during the warm half of the year. Over the high plains to the east of the mountains, little precipitation occurs during the cool half of the year and most of it falls during the summer. For the Sawatch Range nearly equal amounts of precipitation occur during both halves of the year over the western slopes, but over the eastern parts of the range, most of the precipitation occurs as summer thunderstorms. Summertime precipitation is similar on both sides of the range. The main difference is in the winter snowfall which is much heavier on the western slopes than on the eastern slopes. The north-south alignment of the Sawatch is ideal for forcing the relatively moist air coming from the west in the winter to rise over the western slopes and condense out some of the remaining moisture before descending and drying out over the eastern slopes.

Typical summer weather in the Sawatch consists of clear cool mornings with bright blue skies and light winds. By late morning cumulus clouds begin to appear and gradually increase in size with vertical towers visibly growing upwards. By early afternoon thunderstorms begin to appear and may persist well into the evening. Locally near the thunderstorms one can encounter gusty winds rain, hail and lightning.

© 2011 by Don Burrows, All Rights Reserved