We have lots of friends who live back east, who have a hard time wrapping their head around the fact that where we live (8200 feet) is higher than any place back east, even the tallest mountains in New England. What makes it even more confusing is the terminology for various locations in Colorado, especially when listening to the weather forecast. One recent forecast talked about thunderstorms possible in the foothills early in the afternoon, and then later in the plains. The other term you’ll frequently hear used is “Front Range” and “Western Slope.” Why is there a Front Range, but no Back Range? What is the Western Slope, and what’s the difference between the Foothills and the Mountains?
Where I grew up in the Midwest, when you called something the foothills, it meant literally gentle little rounded slopes that were a few hundred feet high. It most certainly did not make me think of mountainous areas. Here in Colorado, since the average elevation is around 6800 feet and our major metropolitan area is 5280 (mile-high Denver), the foothills are a little bit higher than in other places in the country. Foothills are considered to be up to 9000 feet, well higher than any place east of the Mississippi. Referring to the “mountains” means places 9000 feet and higher, usually west of the Continental Divide. The Front Range is all the cities/towns east of the first range of mountains that you come to from the east. Think Boulder, Denver, Colorado Springs. And the Western Slope is the area west of the mountainous areas, more like high desert — for example, Grand Junction.
When it comes to weather, temperatures and storms are dictated by location, location, location. It’s around 100 degrees in Grand Junction right now, but only about 80 degrees for a high in the mountains and even foothill locations. Storms coming up from the Gulf of Mexico along the front range, tend to bring moisture to the foothills, but can leave the western part of the state completely dry. On the other hand, a typical winter storm comes from the west, and drops most of the snow west of the Divide, but leaves us in Nederland on the other side completely dry. One thing’s for sure, the weather can be quite diverse here in this area, with all kinds of interesting things going on — hail, floods, heat, snow, and everything in between. For more interesting Nederland weather phenomena, check out Bryon’s blog and website at www.indianpeaksweather.net.