SMOKEY THE BEAR SUTRA
BY GARY SNYDER
Once in the Jurassic about 150 million years ago, the Great Sun Buddha in this corner of the Infinite Void gave a discourse to all the assembled elements and energies: to the standing beings, the walking beings, the flying beings, and the sitting beings–even the grasses, to the number of thirteen billion, each one born from a seed, assembled there: a Discourse concerning Enlightenment on the planet Earth.
“In some future time, there will be a continent called America. It will have great centers of power called such as Pyramid Lake, Walden Pond, Mt. Rainier, Big Sur, Everglades, and so forth; and powerful nerves and channels such as Columbia River, Mississippi River, and Grand Canyon. The human race in that era will get into troubles all over its head, and practically wreck everything in spite of its own strong intelligent Buddha-nature.”
“The twisting strata of the great mountains and the pulsings of volcanoes are my love burning deep in the earth. My obstinate compassion is schist and basalt and granite, to be mountains, to bring down the rain. In that future American Era I shall enter a new form; to cure the world of loveless knowledge that seeks with blind hunger: and mindless rage eating food that will not fill it.”
And he showed himself in his true form of
SMOKEY THE BEAR
A handsome smokey-colored brown bear standing on his hind legs, showing that he is aroused and watchful.
Bearing in his right paw the Shovel that digs to the truth beneath appearances; cuts the roots of useless attachments, and flings damp sand on the fires of greed and war;
His left paw in the mudra of Comradely Display–indicating that all creatures have the full right to live to their limits and that of deer, rabbits, chipmunks, snakes, dandelions, and lizards all grow in the realm of the Dharma;
Wearing the blue work overalls symbolic of slaves and laborers, the countless men oppressed by a civilization that claims to save but often destroys;
Wearing the broad-brimmed hat of the west, symbolic of the forces that guard the wilderness, which is the Natural State of the Dharma and the true path of man on Earth:
all true paths lead through mountains–
With a halo of smoke and flame behind, the forest fires of the kali-yuga, fires caused by the stupidity of those who think things can be gained and lost whereas in truth all is contained vast and free in the Blue Sky and Green Earth of One Mind;
Round-bellied to show his kind nature and that the great earth has food enough for everyone who loves her and trusts her;
Trampling underfoot wasteful freeways and needless suburbs, smashing the worms of capitalism and totalitarianism;
Indicating the task: his followers, becoming free of cars, houses, canned foods, universities, and shoes, master the Three Mysteries of their own Body, Speech, and Mind; and fearlessly chop down the rotten trees and prune out the sick limbs of this country America and then burn the leftover trash.
Wrathful but calm. Austere but Comic. Smokey the Bear will Illuminate those who would help him; but for those who would hinder or slander him…
HE WILL PUT THEM OUT.
Thus his great Mantra:
Namah samanta vajranam chanda maharoshana Sphataya hum traka ham mam
“I DEDICATE MYSELF TO THE UNIVERSAL DIAMOND BE THIS RAGING FURY BE DESTROYED”
And he will protect those who love the woods and rivers, Gods and animals, hobos and madmen, prisoners and sick people, musicians, playful women, and hopeful children:
And if anyone is threatened by advertising, air pollution, television, or the police, they should chant SMOKEY THE BEAR’S WAR SPELL:
DROWN THEIR BUTTS
CRUSH THEIR BUTTS
DROWN THEIR BUTTS
CRUSH THEIR BUTTS
And SMOKEY THE BEAR will surely appear to put the enemy out with his vajra-shovel.
Now those who recite this Sutra and then try to put it in practice will accumulate merit as countless as the sands of Arizona and Nevada.
Will help save the planet Earth from total oil slick.
Will enter the age of harmony of man and nature.
Will win the tender love and caresses of men, women, and beasts.
Will always have ripened blackberries to eat and a sunny spot under a pine tree to sit at.
AND IN THE END WILL WIN HIGHEST PERFECT ENLIGHTENMENT
…thus we have heard…
(may be reproduced free forever)
Floodwaters from rising sea levels have submerged and killed trees in Bedono village in Demak, Central Java, Indonesia. As oceans warm, they expand and erode the shore. Residents of Java’s coastal villages have been hit hard by rising sea levels in recent years.
Ulet Ifansasti/Getty Images
For the past quarter-century, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has been gathering data from more than 400 scientists around the world on climate trends.
The report on 2014 from these international researchers? On average, it was the hottest year ever — in the ocean, as well as on land.
Deke Arndt is a climate scientist with the agency and an author of the State of the Climate in 2014 report, released Thursday. It’s the lower atmosphere that’s warming, not the upper atmosphere, he points out — just as the total of greenhouse gases in the lower atmosphere continues to increase. That’s not a coincidence.
“The changes that we see in the lower part of the atmosphere are driven by a change in the composition of the atmosphere,” Arndt says. “If an external forcing — such as the sun or some orbital phenomenon — would be driving the warming, we would see a warming across the board in most of the atmosphere. And we don’t.”
This year’s hottest-ever record is the third time that’s happened in the past 15 years.
The annual spike in ocean temperature — specifically, in the upper 2,000 feet of water in most of the world’s oceans — was especially big last year, the scientists say.
“You can sort of think of ocean warming as being global warming, since that’s where most of the global warming goes,” says Greg Johnson, an ocean scientist at NOAA.
A lot of extra heat has been trapped in the lower atmosphere over the past several decades, Johnson says. And the ocean is going to continue to suck up that heat and get warmer.
Moreover, the oceans expand when they get warmer. That raises sea levels, which — again, no coincidence — reached their highest point last year, as well.
Glaciers continued to melt. And the extent of Arctic sea ice kept shrinking as well.
On the temperature front, Europe was hotter than ever. But it wasn’t hotter than blazes everywhere. The eastern U.S. got a break. The winter there was especially cold, which led some climate skeptics to question the whole idea of climate change.
Jessica Blunden, a climate scientist and report author who consults for NOAA, says the weather in the East was an outlier.
“For example, the lower latitudes of eastern North America and parts of Russia were well below average during this period — up to 10 degrees Fahrenheit below average,” Blunden says. “But then in the higher latitudes, Alaska, for example, was super warm for this time of year — 18 degrees above average in late January.
So the eastern U.S. got lucky — if you consider record-breaking snow, and cold weather lucky. Keith Seitter, head of the American Meteorological Society, which published the report, found that ironic.
“I’m here in Boston,” he says. “We had an incredibly tough winter, but that doesn’t change the fact that the globe is getting warmer. And 2014 really represents some kind of landmark year in that respect.”
As the climate report shows, weather is local. Climate is global.
ClimbSkiBoulderMagazine.com On the Cover: Kim Schmitz Winner of the Robert and Miriam Underhill Award for Outstanding Mountaineering Achievement.
An Exclusive Interview with Kim Schmitz
As part of our Climbing’s Legends and Icons Series, we had the greatest honor in getting to interview the legendary climber and mountaineer, Kim Schmitz.
We hope that we can celebrate this great man’s achievements, and honor his lifetime’s worth of work in the sport of climbing. It is on his shoulders that today’s new talent stands.
The standards he set were the building blocks of the feats of climbing we see on El Cap today. And he set the bar very high, because this talented and humble man was simply that good.
This interview is our way of saying thank you, Kim Schmitz, for creating a superb legacy and continuing to inspire everyone around you.
“If you’re squeezed for information,
that’s when you’ve got to play it dumb”. From ‘Waiting for the Miracle’
Portillo Chile will open Saturday July, 18th with 5 feet of snow from July 9-12th storm ~ Driest June in Chile’s recorded weather history…
Measured at the hotel level: 162cm/64inches/5.3 feet in the last 4 days……186cm/73inches/6.1feet in the last week. Attached are a couple photos taken this morning. Anyway been busy….widespread activity with this event. I’ll give you a call in the next few days.
Un gran abrazo
Director of Snow Safety and Helicopter Skiing Ski Portillo
From Don Frank’s el quarto in the train station, Portillo Chile
Santiago, a city of 7 million people 1,000 kilometers ﴾622 miles﴿ from the Atacama desert, is experiencing its driest year since 1966. Similar to California’s situation with the Sierra Nevadas, little to no snow has fallen in the Andes mountains that supply most of Santiago’s water.
“Climatic zones are shifting south,” University of Chile geography professor Francisco Ferrando said. “Santiago is likely to move to a condition of a desert or semi‐desert. What is happening is probably associated with global warming and there’s no sign of it slowing.”
Santiago need only look 300 kilometers north to see how bad things can get as its drought continues for an eighth year amid record high global temperatures. Farmers in the once‐fertile valleys of the Choapa and Limari rivers that lived for generations on agriculture are ripping up orchards, losing livestock and in some cases abandoning homes as wells dry and waterways slow to a trickle.
Near the origin of the Limari river, Paloma reservoir ‐‐ Latin America’s largest for irrigation ‐‐ is all but empty. Sluice gates are shut, the little water that remains doesn’t reach the dam and most of the basin is dry, cracked earth. The image is repeated 30 kilometers away where Cogoti reservoir is empty. Closer to Santiago, the Culimo dam is dry.
Around the river valleys, fields are filled with the stumps of once‐productive avocado trees and almond groves. Grapevines are a thatch of dried stems.
In search of water or “blue gold,” Adolfo Cortes has drilled five boreholes on his 187‐hectare ﴾475‐acre﴿ farm near Ovalle. None have produced any useable supplies.
After 25 years on the farm, Cortes has never seen anything like it. The 68‐year‐old has already ripped up 122 hectares of fruit trees and says the rest will be pulled if water levels in the Limari fall much further.
“If it doesn’t rain in July, the year will be lost,” he said, staring across barren fields that once produced almonds and oranges. “We need at least 400 to 500 millimeters ﴾15 inches﴿ to normalize the situation, a couple of rainfalls won´t help.”
Since 2010, Santiago has received only a third of its average rainfall as the La Nina climate phenomenon blocked weather fronts from moving up from the south, said Jason Nicholls, a senior meteorologist with Accuweather Inc. Still, La Nina may not be the only reason.
“You have to suspect something else is going on because it has been so persistent for so long” Nicholls said, referring to global warming.
Santiago doesn’t behave like a city about to be engulfed by a desert. Swimming pools dot wealthier areas, automatic sprinkler systems water lawns and gardens are full of trees more suited for wetter climate.
Up in the mountains towering over the city, the drought has already had an impact. On Feb. 13, Anglo American Plc ´s Chief Executive Officer Mark Cutifani said the company lost 30,000 tons of copper output at its Los Bronces mine by the city last year, partly because of water shortages.
Fed by snow melt from 1,000 Andean glaciers, the Maipo River supplies most of Santiago’s water. The other river, the Mapocho, is “collapsed” with barely a trickle entering the city, according to Felipe Larrain, chief executive officer of Chile’s largest water utility, Aguas Andinas SA.
“We have been working on this issue from the first day of the drought and that is why there have been no water restrictions,” Larrain said. Still, “the situation is much worse than we had predicted.”
Aguas Andinas can keep the taps running in Santiago for another year if Yeso reservoir in the mountains has 50 million cubic meters in October, the CEO said. With a capacity of 220 cubic meters, Yeso currently holds 120 cubic meters.
“The company’s policy is to buy all the water rights we can, everything we can rent or agree with farmers,” Larrain said. “We haven’t saved on costs.”
Much of its spending goes to wells that account for about 15 percent of Santiago’s water supplies, an investment that’s compensating for wells running dry, Larrain said.
With La Nina switching to El Nino in the region this year, Accuweather forecasts rains will return to Santiago in July. The question is how much and for how long.
Santiago, meanwhile, relies on water from glaciers dating from the last ice age that won’t last many more decades, the professor Ferrando said.
Fans of the well-loved comic strip Bloom County are celebrating this morning, after cartoonist Berkeley Breathed issued the first panels of his satirical strip in decades.
Breathed won a Pulitzer Prize for his work on Bloom County back in 1987; two years later, he quit producing it. On Sunday, he posted a photo of himself to Facebook in which he sat in front of a computer screen with an empty cartoon template titled Bloom County 2015.
“A return after 25 years. Feels like going home,” he wrote.
And on Monday, one of Breathed’s central characters, Opus, awoke from his long slumber with a question:
“That was some nap!! How long was I out, Milo?”
Breathed released the new strip via Facebook. The most popular comment on his post seems to sum up many fans’ response: “And suddenly the world is back in alignment. Thank you Sir.”
Fans of Bloom County had been anticipating the strip’s return — particularly after Breathed responded to a commenter’s request for new material last week by writing, “Watch this space.”
The strip’s return promises to reunite readers with Opus, Bill the Cat and other characters that were previously seen just in Breathed’s two Sunday-only strips, Outland (1989-1995) and Opus (2003-2008). They’re likely to have plenty to talk about: Bloom County, whose small-town characters often found absurdity in America’s cultural and political life, returns as the country heads into a new presidential election season.
It’s unclear whether Breathed will syndicate his new work in newspapers; he recently recalled how an editorial dispute with a publisher had a direct role in his decision to quit cartooning in 2008. His Facebook postings, Breathed said earlier this month, are “nicely out of reach of nervous newspaper editors, the PC humor police now rampant across the web … and ISIS.”
When Bloom County went idle in 1989, it was one of several clever and inventive comic strips, such as Calvin and Hobbes and The Far Side, that were beloved by fans and yet were also comparatively short-lived. Today, devoted fans are treating its return as a small miracle.
“As every day there’s some part of my childhood dying off, this morning I awoke to see one part be brought back to life,” a reader named John Lowry wrote on Facebook. “Thank you from the bottom of my heart Mr. Breathed, you made my day!”
By HOWELL RAINES JULY 10, 2015
Unlike previous Alabama governors, Robert J. Bentley is not a fount of oratory. Nor is he a champion of “kinder and gentler.” His dyspeptic refusal to accept federal funds for Medicaid expansion, in a state where more than one million of 4.8 million residents depend on the program, betokens a stunning indifference to the Hippocratic oath. (The governor is a dermatologist.) Yet Mr. Bentley recently took a page from the Obama playbook and used a surprise executive order to remove four Confederate flags from the Alabama Capitol grounds, not far from the very spot where Jefferson Davis was sworn in as president of the Confederacy.
On the morning of June 24, Mr. Bentley had the flags, and the poles they flew on, removed before either the public or the state’s famously retrograde legislators had time to protest. George C. Wallace — who placed the flag on the Capitol dome in 1963 as a sign of contempt for a visiting integrationist, Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy — himself never did a better job of bumfuzzling the lawmakers. In South Carolina, where nine congregants were murdered at a historic black church in Charleston, the flag didn’t come down until Friday, following action by its Legislature.
It was not the first time Mr. Bentley, a two-term ultraconservative with a broad base among Sheetrock hangers and country-club grandees, has bowed to the zeitgeist. He has done so while assuring his white supporters that not much will change in Alabama except the industrial boom represented by Mercedes, Hyundai and Airbus factories and, it was announced last month, a $600 million Google data center near Huntsville. In 2011, for example, Governor Bentley spoke magnanimously at the funeral of Birmingham’s civil-rights lion, the Rev. Fred L. Shuttlesworth. In 2013, he denounced the University of Alabama’s snootiest sororities for rejecting black rushees.
Such public-relations acumen is a relatively new thing in Alabama, whose residents complain constantly about being looked down on. But the more intriguing story is that Mr. Bentley is among the Southern Republican officeholders who, despite the smart occasional concession, do not fully understand that their dominance will not be a feature of the region’s two-party future. They still act as if tomorrow will be exactly like today, their tenure assured by unbendable evangelical Christians and testy white suburbanites.
But, as in the time of Henry W. Grady, the post-Reconstruction journalist who popularized the term “the New South,” inexorable forces will in a few decades reshape Southern society, this time in a more progressive direction. Witness the flood of gay weddings in Mobile and the mounting alarm of evangelicals across the region, the latter being the driving force behind the former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee’s retro presidential campaign. Like their peers in other regions, secular Southern whites under 40 care less than their elders do about cultural issues like flags, racial and ethnic purity, or private sexual conduct.
Even more dramatic changes in voter attitudes will shift the region’s party balance, to the detriment of the Republicans. This won’t come about because current Republican voters and their elected officials now in office will somehow be converted, but because they will be overwhelmed by new voters in the burgeoning Hispanic and Asian communities, who will join the black minority. Over half of the nation’s 40 million blacks live in the South.
For the time being, however, a traveler through the South can’t help but notice that its affluent, suburban whites remain myopic about the obvious signs, like the multiracial families to be seen among Walmart shoppers on any given day in any shopping mall.
LIKE pretty much everyone these days, Susan Butler stares at her smartphone too much. Unlike most everyone, she took action, buying a $195 ring from a company called Ringly, which promises to “let you put your phone away and your mind at ease.”
Ringly does this by connecting its rings to a smartphone filter so that users can silence Gmail or Facebook notifications while preserving crucial alerts, like text messages from a babysitter, which cause the ring to light up or vibrate.
“Hopefully it will keep some distance between my phone and my hand,” said Ms. Butler, 27, who lives in Austin, Tex., and is a technology consultant for small businesses.
Given how quickly cellphones have taken over our lives, it’s easy to forget that they are still a relatively new technology. The first iPhone came out eight years ago, and today a little more than half the American population has a smartphone, according to eMarketer.
Yet already people spend close to three hours a day looking at a mobile screen — and that excludes the time they spend actually talking on the phones.
In a recent survey of smartphone use by Bank of America, about a third of respondents said they were “constantly” checking their smartphones, and a little more than two-thirds said that they went to bed with a smartphone by their side. Those habits have prompted enough soul searching that a slew of new companies see a business opportunity in helping people cut back.
“Technology has evolved so quickly that we have spiraled out of control and nobody has stopped to think about how this is going to impact our lives,” said Kate Unsworth, the founder of a British company, Kovert, that also makes high-tech jewelry to filter out everything but the most urgent stuff.
Many of these distraction-reducing products fall into the growing “wearable technology” niche. Smartwatches like the Apple Watch are designed to encourage more glancing and less phone checking. Last month Google and Levi’s announced plans for a line of high-tech clothes that will allow people to do things like turn off a ringing phone by swiping their jacket cuff.
“If there is a chance to enable the clothes that we already love to help us facilitate access to the best and most necessary of this digital world while maintaining eye contact with the person we’re eating dinner with, this is a real value,” said Paul Dillinger, Levi’s head of global product innovation.
An application called Offtime limits customers’ access to apps they overuse and logs their activity to produce charts on how much time they spend on their phones. Another, called Moment, encourages people to share their phone use with friends to compete in a game of who can look at their phone the least. And a New York designer recently completed a crowdfunding campaign for the Light Phone, a credit-card-size phone that does nothing but make and receive phone calls and “is designed to be used as little as possible.”
Perhaps most radical is the NoPhone, a $12 piece of plastic that looks like a smartphone but actually does nothing. Van Gould, an art director at a New York advertising agency who moonlights as head of the nascent venture, said he and his partners had sold close to 3,200 NoPhones, which they market as a security blanket for people who want to curb their phone addiction but are afraid to leave home without something to hold on to.
Even though many are doubtless bought as gags, “Most people don’t think about phone addiction as a real thing until you’re like, ‘O.K., they’re buying a piece of plastic because they are worried about their friend,’ ” Mr. Gould said.
Adam Gazzaley, a neurologist and neuroscience professor at the University of California, San Francisco, said, “You have a population that is starting to say, ‘Wait, we love all this technology but there seems to be a cost — whether it’s my relationship or my work or my safety because I’m driving and texting.’ ”
In the days before apps, you searched online when you wanted something, and that was that. But now that the Internet is increasingly mobile and companies are more sophisticated about tracking users’ history and preferences, technology is less about “pulling,” through Google searches, and more about “pushing,” through smartphone notifications that are impossible to ignore because they cause our phones to light up and go ding.
Some products are trying to find a balance, like Google Now, a kind of digital assistant that uses data like location, Gmails and browsing activity to predict what a user might want next. Part of the idea is to bother you only when you need it. “If I’m about to forget my kid’s birthday I want the phone to scream at me until I do something about it,” said Sundar Pichai, Google’s senior vice president of products.
This also makes business sense. The more people trust Google to navigate their lives, the more they’ll use apps like Google Calendar and Gmail. And the more Google understands its users, the more it can fine-tune its advertising engine.
Mr. Pichai’s philosophy is to give people lots of choices and let them figure it out by themselves. “We need to design products which are genuinely centered around users,” Mr. Pichai said, “and then there is a line by which users choose to live their lives. It’s their choice, and I want to be careful not to be prescriptive.”
But smartphones are a potent delivery mechanism for two fundamental human impulses, according to Paul Atchley, a psychology professor at the University of Kansas: our quest to find new and interesting distractions, and our desire to feel that we have checked off a task.
“With these devices you can get that sense of accomplishment multiple times a minute,” he said. “The brain gets literally rewired to switch — to constantly seek out novelty, which makes putting the phone down difficult.”
Like many of us, when Ms. Butler comes out of a meeting or a doctor’s appointment, she finds herself craving social media updates. She also had a nagging habit of opening a website, closing it, then opening it right back up in the hope that something new would appear. Addiction or not, it was enough for her to seek help from Ringly.
Mr. Atchley, for one, is skeptical. Addiction is an intensely personal matter, he said, and successful treatment is about having the resolve to control our demons — not outsourcing them to message filters.
In technology, as in life, a little willpower goes a long way.
China Fences In Its Nomads, and an Ancient Life Withers ~“We used to carry knives, now we have to carry keys.” ~
A nomad in the Xinjiang region. China wants nomads settled to preserve grasslands.
MADOI, China — If modern material comforts are the measure of success, then Gere, a 59-year-old former yak-and-sheep herder in China’s western Qinghai Province, should be a happy man.
In the two years since the Chinese government forced him to sell his livestock and move into a squat concrete house here on the windswept Tibetan plateau, Gere and his family have acquired a washing machine, a refrigerator and a color television that beams Mandarin-language historical dramas into their whitewashed living room.
But Gere, who like many Tibetans uses a single name, is filled with regret. Like hundreds of thousands of pastoralists across China who have been relocated into bleak townships over the past decade, he is jobless, deeply indebted and dependent on shrinking government subsidies to buy the milk, meat and wool he once obtained from his flocks.
“We don’t go hungry, but we have lost the life that our ancestors practiced for thousands of years,” he said.
In what amounts to one of the most ambitious attempts made at social engineering, the Chinese government is in the final stages of a 15-year-old campaign to settle the millions of pastoralists who once roamed China’s vast borderlands. By year’s end, Beijing claims it will have moved the remaining 1.2 million herders into towns that provide access to schools, electricity and modern health care.
Official news accounts of the relocation rapturously depict former nomads as grateful for salvation from primitive lives. “In merely five years, herders in Qinghai who for generations roved in search of water and grass, have transcended a millennium’s distance and taken enormous strides toward modernity,” said a front-page article in the state-run Farmers’ Daily. “The Communist Party’s preferential policies for herders are like the warm spring breeze that brightens the grassland in green and reaches into the herders’ hearts.”
But the policies, based partly on the official view that grazing harms grasslands, are increasingly contentious. Ecologists in China and abroad say the scientific foundations of nomad resettlement are dubious. Anthropologists who have studied government-built relocation centers have documented chronic unemployment, alcoholism and the fraying of millenniums-old traditions.
Monk from the Drepung Loesling Monastery
at work at the Aspen Art Museum
Jerry: To see photos of Bean and George side by side at the top of your report is a nice reminder…..of many things, very good people, good times and memories, impermanence and endurance. Thanks….Dick Dorworth
No question about it, we’ve had a wet spring and early summer. And now it looks like the rest of the summer could be even soggier than usual.
Mid-July is the start of Colorado’s monsoon season, and it could get a boost from all the recent rain and the vegetation that wet weather has produced. David Barjenbruch, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Boulder, told CPR News’ Mike Lamp that more grass, brush and trees put more moisture in the air — and that comes back as rain.
“We can get that feedback mechanism,” he said. “Once it is wet, it tends to stay wet.”
Here are more highlights from their conversation:
What accounts for the wetter-than-usual monsoon season?
That’s based on some long-term averages and some long-term climate modeling — and those should sometimes be taken with a grain of salt. But we are definitely favoring a wetter monsoon this year.
Author: Michelle L’Heureux
Tuesday, July 7, 2015
“El Niño is Strong!”
“No, it’s Moderate!”
“But the [insert your favorite ENSO indicator here]
is the largest it’s been since the El Niño of 1997-98!”
We are now nearing 1.5 degrees Celsius in the Niño-3.4 index for a 7-day or weekly average. Among the post-college age crowd who can remember it (yes, this officially means you’re old), the level of warmth in sea surface temperatures this time of year harkens back to 1997-98 El Niño, which ended up becoming a record strength event.
Are these weekly numbers impressive? Yes. But when a weekly value hits 1.5°C is El Niño instantly considered strong? I’d argue no. While a short-term (daily or weekly) number might be striking, it shouldn’t be used as an indicator of El Niño strength unless it is carefully placed into a larger context. Here are some reasons to be careful about gauging El Niño strength on a sub-monthly basis:
(1) Weekly conditions in the tropical Pacific aren’t related to global impacts. Take, for example, the 1.0°C value in the Niño-3.4 index during late November of 2014. Did that warrant its consideration as a moderate-strength El Niño (footnote 1)? No, in large part because the atmosphere didn’t react. The following week, the anomaly decreased to 0.8°C. Did that mean it went from “moderate” to “weak” in the span of 7 days? Of course not. It means that we shouldn’t make a big deal out of changes in weekly values—or “wiggle watching,” as my colleague Andrew Watkins at the Australian Bureau of Meteorology likes to say.
(2) Weekly averages bounce around because… you know, weather. It is not unusual to see jumps of several tenths of a degree from week-to-week. This is because there are shorter-term changes in the ocean and atmospheric circulation that can be related to faster, non-ENSO phenomena, such as the Madden Julian Oscillation, which happens to be currently in place and is influencing the tropical Pacific. With short-term changes, we cannot be sure they reflect El Niño, which evolves more slowly. As Emily has pointed out, watching El Niño is akin to watching a rock within a flowing stream. If water pushes around the rock then the El Niño classification may not be stable. But if it stays in place for a longer period of time, then it is more likely a real indicator of El Niño strength.
How often and how big is the change in Niño-3.4 index values from one week to the next? The change is an absolute value meaning that the sign (increase vs. decrease) of the change is ignored. Weekly averaged OISSTv2 data is used from January 1990 through June 2015. Image by Climate.gov based on data provided by the Climate Prediction Center.
(3) The squishiness of rankings. Remember, El Niño is based on both the ocean and atmosphere. There are many different data sets and methods to compare and measure strength. Some use sea surface temperatures in degrees Celsius in a certain region, like Niño-3.4, to define strength (footnote 1). Based on one index and one dataset, the current 2015 April-June average value ranks as the fourth largest April-June El Niño since 1950. Some prefer “standardized anomalies,” in which case—breaking news flash—El Niño is already strong with a value of 1.6, which is the 95th percentile (95%) of all AMJ Niño-3.4 index values (footnote 2). While impressive, this is only one index and dataset. And, remember, during the summer, El Niño is fairly irrelevant to the United States (but it is more important to certain locations in the Tropics and Southern Hemisphere).
A ranking of April-May-June Niño-3.4 index values based on past El Niño episodes going back to 1950. Monthly averaged ERSSTv4 data (created by NOAA NCEI) is used to form the seasonally averaged index, which is also known as the Oceanic Niño Index (ONI). Note that some of the years listed were El Niños that were in decay and not growing as in the current event. Image by Climate.gov based on data provided by the Climate Prediction Center.
Smoke rises from the Bogus Creek Fire, one of two fires burning in the Yukon Delta National Wildlife Refuge in southwest Alaska.
“Extreme.” “Unprecedented.” “Historic.” Those are just a few of the words being used to describe the start of this year’s fire season in North America.
The wildfires are centered in the northwest of the continent, but their consequences are far-reaching. Thick smoke has blanketed parts of Wisconsin and North Dakota. It’s triggered air alerts in Minnesota and Montana and muddied skies as far south as Tennessee and Colorado.
And, of course, things are even worse at the source.
In Canada thousands of people have been evacuated from their homes because of air quality and actual flames, as the country deals with an unusually devastating start to its fire season.
Thousands of wildfires have been burning in the conifers and spruce of Canada’s boreal forests — some big, some small, most in rural, hard-to-reach places.
In British Columbia, many of the fires are only being monitored, seen from above by aircraft or with satellite imagery, which shows about half of the province covered in white smoke.
In Saskatchewan, the fires are more threatening. They’re growing into each other and combining as fire crews and aircraft work through the thick clouds of smoke that have forced more than 10,000 people to evacuate.
In total, more than 10,000 square miles — roughly the size of Massachusetts — have burned in Canada.
“The situation is Canada is extreme right now, specifically in Western Canada,” says Kerry Anderson, research scientist with the Canadian Forest Service. “Western Canada has seen about three times the area that’s normally burned for this time of year.”
The fires have stretched firefighting resources thin.
“Pretty much all of the resources in Canada are tapped out,” Anderson says. “They’re all on the fireline, and now we’re bringing in resources internationally, from Mexico, Australia, New Zealand.”
The forest service has made more recent requests for help to South Africa, France and the U.S.
Lake Mead is at its lowest levels since it was built in the late 1930s.
The historic four-year drought in California has been grabbing the headlines lately, but there’s a much bigger problem facing the West: the now 14-year drought gripping the Colorado River basin.
One of the most stunning places to see its impact is at the nation’s largest reservoir, Lake Mead, near Las Vegas. At about 40 percent of capacity, it’s the lowest it’s been since it was built in the 1930s.
“Just to see the rings around it, it’s just … kind of scary, you know,” says Darlene Paige, a visitor from New York. She’s standing at a vista point above the Hoover Dam on the Arizona side of Lake Mead.
That “ring” is the infamous bathtub ring around the rim of the reservoir. The levels have dropped 140 feet over the past 15 years, exposing a white stain on the gravelly brown mountains above the water. The level is forecast to fall an additional 10 feet by this summer.
The snowpack in the Rocky Mountains, where the Colorado and much of the Southwest gets most of its water, is again at less than half of normal this year.
“There are a lot of people, entities and critters that rely on this Colorado River water,” says Rose Davis, spokeswoman for the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.
Farther down the mountain, on a walkway next to the Hoover Dam, Davis points out the 10-story-high towers that used to be mostly underwater. The lake’s levels are nearing a critical trigger where the Bureau of Reclamation will start rationing water deliveries to Nevada, Arizona and parts of California.
“I do believe that Nevada is a poster child for the rest of the nation. We have shown that you can grow your economy and use less water.”
John Entsminger, general manager, Southern Nevada Water Authority
Agriculture would bear most of the biggest impacts first — an economic problem that’s not lost on Davis.
“The southern part of California and the southern part of Arizona, are the vegetable breadbasket of this country,” she says. “If you eat a salad for dinner tonight, chances are that salad came from California or the Yuma, Ariz., area.”
The Colorado River and its reservoirs make the desert bloom. About 70 percent of all the water in the system goes to growing crops: vegetables, but also alfalfa and cotton. The river and its tributaries also provide the main drinking water for 40 million people.
Some of the West’s biggest metropolises — Phoenix, Denver, Las Vegas, San Diego — all grew up during what scientists now believe was a wet period, a relative anomaly in the West.
Kumud Acharya, who studies the Colorado River at the University of Nevada’s Desert Research Institute, says the current situation at Lake Mead is a glimpse of the future in the West. “Seeing dry islands popping up that didn’t used to exist because of water going down — it’s like a looking glass for problems everywhere,” Acharya says.
The Colorado River is already overallocated. In the long term, Acharya says, the region needs to better understand whether climate change is the culprit behind a steady decline in the snowpack in the Rockies. That way, water managers can better plan around shorter winters.
“When we don’t have water, these utilities have to find water, bring that water from somewhere,” Acharya says. “Whether it’s a desalinization project or whether it’s from groundwater pumping from somewhere else, the cost is going to go up. We just have to pay more.”
If there’s any good news about the drought on the Colorado, it’s that, unlike in California, this one has been a disaster slow to unfold. There’s been well over a decade now of severely dry conditions, with the occasional big-snow winter here or there.
“We’ve been living this for the last 15 years; we’ve been adapting for the last 15 years,” says John Entsminger, general manager of the Southern Nevada Water Authority.
At a recent press conference, he touted the fact that Las Vegas has cut its water use by 40 percent during this drought. Even before the current drought, Nevada was the driest state in the U.S.
“I do believe that Nevada is a poster child for the rest of the nation,” Entsminger says. “We have shown that you can grow your economy and use less water.”
But conservation can go only so far when your supply is shrinking fast. So the water authority is currently spending $1.5 billion to burrow a new tunnel even deeper down into Lake Mead: The old tunnels that suck water over to Las Vegas will dry up if the lake’s level sinks below 1,000 feet.
Today, it’s at about 1,080 feet — and falling.
Renee Montagne talks to Propublica’s Abrahm Lustgarten about the Colorado River’s falling water levels, and how flawed water policies and mismanagement are to blame — in addition to the drought.