By Chris Spears

DENVER (CBS4) – If you look at Denver’s official precipitation total for 2018 it would appear that the city’s 8.53 inches of rain and melted snow was less than what fell in the desert of southern Arizona. Phoenix measured 9.29 inches of rain last year with 13.44 inches falling in nearby Tucson.

While it was one of the driest years on record for the Mile High City’s official weather station, located at Denver International Airport (DIA), it was not nearly as dry in other areas closer to downtown.

Travel by plane just 13 miles southwest of DIA and the weather station at Denver’s old Stapleton Airport measured 11.62 inches of rain and melted snow in 2018. Closer to downtown Denver a rain gauge at the Denver Botanic Gardens measured 14.73 inches of rain and melted snow last year.

So why so much variation? Summer thunderstorms!

Alameda and Santa Fe rainbow after severe storms hit on June 24, 2015. (credit: Kelly Werthmann)

Afternoon thunderstorms often produce a large amount of rain over a short period of time in a very small area. That’s because ordinary thunderstorms typically don’t last more than 15-30 minutes. If storms happen to consistently miss a city’s official weather station then annual precipitation numbers will reflect that, as was the case in Denver during 2018.

Thankfully we have a dense network of rain gauges in Colorado that helps us map and visualize our highly variable climate. The Community Collaborative Rain, Hail and Snow Network (CoCoRaHS) has volunteer observers taking daily measurements of precipitation all around the state.

You can check out the CoCoRaHS maps where you live by clicking here.

Meteorologist Chris Spears travels weekly in the CBS4 Mobile Weather Lab reporting about Colorado’s weather and climate. Check out his bio, connect with him on Facebook or follow him on Twitter @ChrisCBS4.

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