A ten-foot thick slab of snow broke free and buried six backcountry snowboarders in an avalanche in Sheep Creek Bowl below Loveland Pass Saturday, April 20, 2013. One survived but the others five died at the scene. (Karl Gehring, The Denver Post)
LOVELAND PASS — Five backcountry snowboarders were killed Saturday in Colorado’s deadliest avalanche in more than 50 years.
Saturday’s avalanche struck about 1 p.m. on the north-northeast aspect of the Sheep Creek drainage of Loveland Pass along U.S. 6, the Clear Creek County Sheriff’s Office said.
The avalanche occurred near the Loveland Ski Area but outside its boundaries.
Sheriff Don Krueger said there was one confirmed survivor — a member of the group was able to drag himself out and call for help. Krueger said his office was notified about 2 p.m.
The survivor was up and walking around when he saw him, Krueger said.
No information was released Saturday about the five victims
The sheriff confirmed that the parties were equipped with proper safety equipment, including avalanche beacons.
Krueger said additional information about the victims likely would not be available until Sunday morning.
Saturday’s avalanche was the deadliest since 1962, when seven people were killed Jan. 21 as an avalanche buried residences at Twin Lakes near Independence Pass.
Saturday’s fatal slide measured about 200 meters (about 219 yards) wide and 350 meters (about 383 yards) long. The fracture line was about 8 feet deep, officials said.
Teams from Alpine Search & Rescue, Summit County Rescue Group, Clear Creek Fire Authority, as well as Clear Creek and Summit counties’ sheriff’s officials, all came to the scene.
The Colorado Avalanche Information Center forecast for Summit County and Vail Pass on Saturday morning warned of “deep persistent slabs a
nd fresh wind slabs” on the north, east and southeast aspects near and above tree line.
The recent deluge of heavy, wet snow and high winds in the high country has spiked avalanche danger in the Central Rockies at a time when snowpacks are typically stabilizing and getting safer for backcountry travel.
“I feel really bad for these guys. I think they were trying to do a lot of things right. These weren’t guys who were reckless and didn’t care. They all had gear, and I think they cared about making good decisions,” said Tim Brown, a Summit County avalanche forecaster with the Colorado Avalanche Information Center.
“That is an important message right now. You can do a lot of things right but still be caught in a dangerous situation.”
Dale Atkins, the president of the American Avalanche Association and a longtime member of the Alpine Rescue Team, was part of the early rescue team.
“As rescuers, what we’ve been dealing with lately is avalanches that are sort of like angry sleeping dogs. They are unreactive for a long period of time, but with recent heavy snows and the deep weakness, somebody in the wrong place at the wrong time can bring a whole mountainside down.”
Atkins said the bowl that released the avalanche Saturday was not an extreme slope.
“This would be a slope that looks like a lot of fun for good riders.” he said. “But the conditions this spring are unusual, and unusual conditions result in unusual avalanches. You really need to dial it back this spring.”
Late Saturday, the chunks that funneled from a 4-foot to 8-foot lip of snow clogged a deep ravine at the bottom of the wide bowl. Some of the icy chunks were the size of golf carts. The tracks of rescuers wended through the massive chunks toward deep holes.
The avalanche triggered while all six riders were nearing the bottom of the bowl and the beginning of the narrow ravine only a couple hundred yards above the top of the Loveland Valley chairlift.
“With all the snow and wind we’ve had over the last couple of weeks, winds are really building that slab up, and it’s really kind of reached the tipping point this last week,” said Colorado Avalanche Information Center executive director Ethan Greene. “Especially in that area. We are very much in a winter snowpack right now. The calendar may say it’s April, but the snowpack looks more like February and it needs to be treated as such.”
Colorado has seen 11 avalanche deaths in the 2012-13 season — almost half of the 24 U.S. fatalities, according to the Colorado Avalanche Information Center.
Ten of those 11 killed in Colorado were skiing, snowboarding or snowshoeing outside ski area boundaries.
CAIC forecaster Spencer Logan said there have been weak layers in Colorado’s snowpack since early January, and forecasters have said they’re seeing the worst avalanche danger in 30 years.
Some 42 people in Colorado’s back country and ski areas have been caught in slides this season.
“Our last series of storms made them more active again,” Logan said. “Over the last week and a half, that area got over 18 inches of snow. If you melted that, it would be 2 inches of water, so that is a heavy load.”
A snowboarder, a man from Westminster, was killed in an avalanche Thursday in Avalanche Bowl south of Vail Pass. He was making runs with two friends after they were dropped off at the top by a friend with a snowmobile.
U.S. 6 at Loveland Pass, elevation 11,990 feet, was closed by the Colorado Department of Transportation at 3:16 p.m because of a slide, just as many skiers were headed home from nearby Arapahoe Basin ski resort.
U.S. avalanche deaths climbed steeply around 1990 to an average of about 24 a year as new gear became available for backcountry travel. Until then, avalanches rarely claimed more than a handful of lives each season in records going back to 1950.
3D Photos of snowflakes falling.
No two snowflakes are alike — but you’ve never seen them quite like this.
A new device can take 3D photographs of snow as it falls through the air, revealing a diverse array of shapes that mostly look completely different than the 2D representations we’re used to seeing.
“Until our device, there was no good instrument for automatically photographing the shapes and sizes of snowflakes in free-fall,” said Tim Garrett, an atmospheric scientist at the University of Utah, in a release from the school. “We are photographing these snowflakes completely untouched by any device, as they exist naturally in the air.”
Joe Philpott was an avid action-sports and outdoors enthusiast who had experience in backcountry skiing, surfing, mountain biking and paragliding. Philpott died March 2 in an avalanche on Cameron Pass, near Fort Collins.
Entombed in snow for more than three hours, unable to wiggle even a finger, Alex White felt his life slipping away. He thought of his family. His friend somewhere nearby and likely in the same trouble. His girlfriend. His studies.
“The last thing I remember thinking was that I was going to die there, honestly,” he said. “And aside from a few bursts of panic, it was really kind of peaceful.”
March 2 was a cloudless Saturday, as pals White, Joe Philpott, Kylie Nulty and Toby Kraft geared up for backcountry turns on Cameron Pass in northern Colorado.
|Dr. James Edward Church, Jr., with goggles and snowshoes, standing on a snowy hillside (ca. 1920)|
Dick Dorworth saw my posting of SNOTEL information the last few days and sent me his piece below for a more detailed story of James ‘Ward’ Church who’s photo was in the SNOTEL piece. Enjoy and thanks so much Dick for sending your fine story of Ward Church and his love of snow. J.R.
By DICK DORWORTH
Express Staff Writer
“Anyone who can solve the problems of water will be worthy of two Nobel prizes—one for peace and one for science.”
John F. Kennedy
For many different reasons, all people who live in snow country and many who do not pay close attention to details of each winter’s snowpack. The most important reason in the short term, of course, is to know how skiing will be in the morning. The most significant, however, from a broader perspective is to know how much water will be available in the rivers and reservoirs of spring and summer. Whether spring runoff is a trickle, a benign wetness or a destructive flood depends on several factors, among them location, how fast the snowpack melts, when it melts, how full (or not) are key reservoirs at crucial times, the strength of levees and what progress and hubris has developed within historic floodplains. Big snow years, droughts, floods, and other natural occurrences like forest fires, tsunamis and earthquakes are as natural, recurring and predictable as……well……big snow years, periods of drought, etc.
It was only a hundred years ago that the beginning of a reliable method of measuring the water content of a snowpack in order to estimate the size of the springtime runoff was developed. This was almost entirely through the efforts, ingenuity and imagination of one man, Dr. James Edward Church, Jr., known as “Ward” to his friends. John Kennedy probably didn’t know of Church, but Church certainly deserved prizes and praise in the realms of peace and science. He solved some of the problems of water. Church was born in Michigan in 1869 and was a professor at the University of Nevada in Reno from 1899 until his retirement in 1939, teaching courses in Latin, German and the appreciation of literature and beauty in art and nature. The Church Fine Arts Building on the University of Nevada campus in Reno is named after him, and his and his wife’s ashes are interred in its cornerstone.
One description of Church reads, “Quiet and unassuming, he was the essence of the Renaissance man, with his interests in science, the classics and art. Dr. Church died in Reno on August 5, 1959 at the age of 90.”
This accomplished Renaissance man became fascinated with the Sierra Nevada, particularly Mt. Rose which rises above Reno like a sentinel. In 1895, on a dare, he made the first known mid-winter ascent of the 10,776 foot peak. Church and his wife, Florence, made many winter ascents of Sierra peaks, including Whitney and Shasta, and they wrote about their adventures in the Sierra Club Bulletin. Though their backcountry gear was rustic and heavy by modern standards, it is reported that Florence lined their sleeping bag with rabbit furs.
His attraction to mountains was intellectual as well as adventurous, as befits a Renaissance man. In 1906 Church and Sam Doten of the University’s Agricultural Experiment Station built by hand a weather observatory on the summit of Mt. Rose, ferrying all material either by backpack or horseback. The observatory recorded data on snow deposits, wind velocities and runoff, and its remnants are still in place. Church developed the Mt. Rose snow sampler, a hollow metal tube with a serrated collar which removed a core of the snow pack which could then be weighed to calculate water content.
Church developed the first system for accurately comparing snow and water content against the subsequent flow of streams in the Lake Tahoe area which allowed people to forecast water availability and to plan accordingly, in the case of Tahoe by knowing how much water to let into the Truckee River at what time of year. This system became known as the percentage or Nevada system and became the standard one used in the west. It is in use today throughout the world.
Though Church was a fine professor and popular with students, he was world famous because of his expertise with snow surveying which had nothing to do with his chosen profession. He became a world traveler as a snow survey consultant, visiting and working in Russia, Europe, Greenland, India, Nepal, Pakistan and Argentina, all of which used the Nevada system to provide runoff forecasts and regulate reservoirs.
After an eleven month study in Argentina, Church, described as a peace-loving man, noted that in both the Andes and the Himalayas water sources were in one country and their outlets in another. He wrote, “Thus, barrier ranges and trunk streams merge national interests like children in a family. My wanderings have become adventures in international peace. At the end of the rainbow I sought snow and found friendship.”
Many people who live in the mountains and mountain towns of western America can identify with that statement, “At the end of the rainbow I sought snow and found friendship.” It is good to remember Ward Church, the Renaissance man who sought snow and found friends and adventures in peace by immersing himself in solving one of the problems of water. Clearly, the world today could use some more men like Ward Church.
Much of the water in the western United States comes from the winter snowpack in the mountainous regions. The snowpack in the mountains of western US can range from nothing or very little up to 30 or 40 feet of snow in the high Cascades.
In 1906, a Hydrologist at the University of Nevada, Dr. James Church, began to document the relationship between winter snowpack in the mountains and stream flow throughout the year for certain watersheds. Dr. Church enhanced existing Russian technology for measuring snow water equivalent (SWE). Shortly after Dr. Church developed these snow measurement techniques, the US Department of Agriculture began to construct “Snow Courses” in the mountainous areas of the west so that hydrologists could make stream flow predictions from snow data.
Dr. James Church in 1906. Picture compliments of the USDA National Resources Conservation Service
These snow courses were areas free of trees where the snow survey staff could take manual measurements of the snowpack. About that same time, the USGS began installing stream gauging stations so that stream data could be compared to the snow data. In 1911, these USGS Stream gauging stations began using mechanical chart recorders, an innovative new technology for automatically measuring water level developed by J. C. Stevens, one of the founders of Leupold & Stevens, which later became Stevens Water Monitoring Systems.
Left: a Stevens Type F chart recorder from the 1960s. Right: the current production model of the Stevens Type F chart recorder.
Starting in the 1980s, the USDA’s snow courses became more sophisticated, adding an array of weather sensors, data loggers and telemetry systems. These snow course telemetry sites were named SNOTEL. Today, the US Department of Agriculture, National Resources Conservation Service, manages and operates over 600 (and growing) SNOTEL stations. The hourly data is now displayed on the internet for every station. The data from SNOTEL is of high quality, and SNOTEL is known the world over for having the one of best quality control protocols of any environmental network.
What is a Snow Course and what is the significance of Snow Water Equivalent?
For the traditional stream flow prediction models, the parameter Snow Water Equivalent (SWE) was needed. SWE is the amount of water contained within a core of snowpack. This is a manual measurement where a technician would push a preweighed cylindrical tube into the snow. The tube is then weighed to get the weight of the snow. From this weight, they are able to determine the amount of water in the snow. The density of snow can change with temperature and precipitation throughout the year. The same depth of snowpack can yield different water amounts depending on the density. With the SWE measurement, apples to apples comparisons can be made with snow data across regions and time.
While this manual SWE measurement method is still used on most snow courses several times a year, SNOTEL has automated ways for collecting information about snowpack. Each SNOTEL site is equipped with a radar sensor that can provide snow depth, a precipitation gauge that that measures the total amount of precipitation (both solid and liquid) using a pressure transducer inside of a collector, and a snow pillow. A snow pillow is a big bladder filled with a non-toxic liquid antifreeze solution. As the snowpack builds on a snow pillow throughout the winter, the antifreeze is displaced up a stand pipe. From the pressure of antifreeze in the stand pipe, a SWE is calculated. SNOTEL sites also collect air temperature, wind speed and direction, relative humidity, barometric pressure, and solar radiation data.
STILL BELOW AVERAGE – A view to the south east over Ophir Pass on Monday afternoon showed good coverage in the mountains. While snow conditions have improved, the state has only received 73 percent of average snowfall this year. (Photo by Brett Schreckengost)
WESTERN COLORADO – Knee deep. Ankle deep. Hip deep.
Skiers, and ski areas, talk about snow in terms of inches on the ground, storm totals, base depths.
Water managers care only about the snow-water equivalent – what snow hydrologist Mark Rikkers calls the “snow bank.” How much water is up in the high country that can be counted on to flow into rivers, irrigate crops, fill reservoirs and recharge watersheds?
They measure the water stored in snow by river basin: the Upper Colorado River Basin, the Gunnison, the Dolores/San Miguel, the Yampa/White. And so far this water season the numbers aren’t looking great. “Pray for a good monsoon,” said Tri-County Water Conservancy District General Manager Mike Berry recently. “If we don’t have a wet spring, and rain in July and August, we’re going to be in trouble.”
This was the Saint Germain Foundation’s lodge and religious retreat, a former ski lodge, before it burned in January 1952. The group’s religious beliefs were upheld in a major U.S. Supreme Court decision in 1944, two years after the organization had bought the lodge.
ANDREW GULLIFORD/Special to the Herald
The lodge burned in January 1952, and that fall members of the “I AM” religious group built a garage on the site. The garage still stands immediately adjacent to U.S. Highway 550. Leigh Ann Hunt, forest archaeologist for the Grand Mesa-Uncompahgre-Gunnison National Forest, says, “The Saint Germain group came planning to do big things and then it never materialized. The lake and garage are now landmarks in Ironton and they will be managed to preserve them.”
ANDREW GULLIFORD/Special to the Herald
A water tank and wooden platform still stand from members of the “I AM” religious group whose adherents moved to Ouray in 1942 and brought new perspectives to the old mining town. After their main lodge burned, members continued to camp on the site.
ANDREW GULLIFORD/Special to the Herald
Few structures remain on the 800-acre site, but one extant building is this cellar or storage area. It includes traces of yellow and purple paint on the interior.
ANDREW GULLIFORD/Special to the Herald
The concrete foundation of the original 1940s lodge can still be seen at the north edge of Ironton Park. Built as a ski lodge, the building became a retreat for the Saint Germain Foundation and “I AM” religious teachings.
Driving across Colorado and the West, I see historic buildings or structures that compel me to get out of my truck and take a walk. For years, I’ve driven between Silverton and Ouray and noticed the large stone garage just east of Crystal Lake in Ironton Park. I’ve always wondered what it was, but in my most vivid imagination I could never have created the story I’m about to tell.
No fiction. Just fact. Including: a ski area, a religion, loudspeakers sounding heavenly music, a couple’s spiritual beliefs tested all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, a tragic fire, a yellow Cadillac, and the colors of the rainbow.
The story begins simply enough. A couple of friends decided to build a ski area.
Ouray businessman Joseph Condotti and Ralph Kullerstrand, president of Citizen’s State Bank, acquired patented mining claims on the north end of Ironton Park, and using lumber and bricks recycled from the Saratoga Smelter, built a two-story lodge with a full basement and attic. Ouray historian Don Paulson writes, “They built a ski lift with seven towers, the remnants of which can still be found, and cleared a run of approximately 1,800 feet.”
Across U.S. Highway 550, the partners created today’s Crystal Lake and stocked it with trout, which Colorado Gov. Ralph Carr ate while he attended the lodge’s opening ceremonies in 1940. But the lodge never succeeded. The business partnership failed.
Paulson writes, “Some believe that avalanche hazard was the cause of the disagreement. The Guadalupe slide runs just north of the lodge building and would have threatened the ski run.”
As the ski area sat vacant, a burgeoning religious movement, borne out of the desperation of the Great Depression, lost one of its founders. The religion’s practitioners sought solace in the San Juan Mountains. They bought the lodge and ski area.
In many cultures around the world, mountains are seen as sacred places. Ouray bills itself as “the Switzerland of America,” so maybe that’s why in the 1940s the Saint Germain Foundation bought the unused ski lodge for a religious retreat. A decade earlier in 1930, Guy W. Ballard, hiking on Mount Shasta in northern California, had encountered the Ascended Master Saint Germain. That experience was the origin of the “I AM” religious teachings.
According to the Saint Germain Foundation, Jesus Christ was an Ascended Master, and Joan of Arc and Benjamin Franklin were earlier embodiments of Mrs. Guy Ballard. In the 1930s, Saint Germain inspired Guy Ballard to write books titled Unveiled Mysteries and The Magic Presence. The books communicate theosophy, and volume No. 3 is The ‘I AM’ Discourses, which are sacred scriptures and part of the Ascended Master Teachings religion. In 1939, Guy Ballard became an Ascended Master.
The “I AM” movement grew spectacularly during the dark days of the Depression. In 1942, the federal government indicted his wife, Edna Ballard, their son Donald Ballard and other affiliates on 12 counts including mail fraud. They were convicted of organizing a moneymaking scheme, and the same year the foundation bought the lodge and members moved to Ouray seeking privacy. The Ballard family appealed the convictions, and two years later the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in one of the most important decisions about religious freedom in the 20th century.
The Ballards won. The U.S. Supreme Court overturned their conviction in United States v. Ballard 322 U.S. 78 (1944). In a victory for the First Amendment of the Bill of Rights, the high court ruled that the tenets of one’s religious faith could not be legally challenged.
Now comes her yellow Cadillac, Mrs. Edna Ballard, and members of the “I AM” religion. They preferred the colors of the rainbow, including purple and yellow, and her inner staff wore formal clothes. One story is that a local Ouray teacher involved in the “I AM” religious group would not tolerate red and black crayons in her schoolroom. The lodge held a sanctuary on the main floor for regular services. Sounds of violins, carillon bells – at the time the highest in the world – and harp music wafted down the canyon. Nearby were plans for a music healing temple.
Lifelong member Bud Thayer knew Mrs. Ballard and he told me, “She was guided by Saint Germain in what she did in purchasing the property. We were very near a concentration of spiritual energy in that whole area for a number of miles around. We regard that property as very sacred.”
Followers of the religious group produced radio broadcasts “that went all over the world” through wire connections from the property. Normally five to 10 people lived on site, but when Mrs. Ballard arrived there could be as many as 25 assistants.
“She came three to four times a year. She absolutely loved it. She was at her happiest at the lodge in Ouray,” Thayer says.
On the site, a root cellar still has traces of purple and yellow paint. A careful hiker can find little patios under pine trees, short hand-stacked stone walls, and other rock masonry architectural features.
To this day the Chicago-based Saint Germain Foundation exists worldwide with over 300 “I AM” sanctuaries and centers, including one in Santa Fe. But not in Ouray.
After buying the ski area in 1942, the religious group purchased mining claims until they owned an 800-acre site.
According to Paulson, “In 1947 they announced plans to open a large summer camp able to house over 500 people but that never materialized. Unfortunately, in January of 1952, the lodge caretaker accidentally set the building on fire using a blowtorch” while melting snow and icicles on the roof. Because of prevailing canyon winds the old mining timbers burned instantly. Terraces show where summer cabins would have been built.
Today, only the concrete foundation of the lodge remains and I like to hike around it. I think about the ski area and summer camp that could have been but never was. The stone garage built in the fall of 1952 is locked. Plans included rebuilding the lodge one or two stories atop the garage, but instead it became a truck and storage area.
The foundation held on to the property for a few more decades and members of the organization camped on site. On Feb. 10, 1971, . Edna Ballard died in Chicago and took her ascension as the Ascended Lady Master Lotus.
Assisted by federal funding from the Land and Water Conservation Fund, the Red Mountain Project and the Trust for Public Land purchased the 800 acres and transferred it back to the U.S. Forest Service. What was private is now public land.
Leigh Ann Hunt, forest archaeologist for the Grand Mesa-Uncompahgre-Gunnison National Forest, has written a cultural resource inventory of the site. A stout metal and wood picnic table remains, and I love the stone walls and terraces that look like elves built them.
I agree with the Saint Germain Foundation. Mountains are sacred places. The foundation established more permanent quarters at Mount Shasta, and their former Colorado religious retreat is once again public domain. For me, the silvery San Juans meet my spiritual needs, and though I like rainbow colors, I prefer blue – sky blue – the color you see at 12,000 feet.
February ?’s still linger,
sounds of the past drifting back-
still here now….
gracias Matt Wylie y Greg Harms
The eye of Hurricane Earl in the Atlantic Ocean, seen from a NASA research aircraft on Aug. 30, 2010. This flight through the eyewall caught Earl just as it was intensifying from a Category 2 to a Category 4 hurricane. Researchers collected air samples on this flight from about 30,000 feet over both land and sea and close to 100 different species of bacteria.
Microbes are known to be able to thrive in extreme environments, from inside fiery volcanoes to down on the bottom of the ocean. Now scientists have found a surprising number of them living in storm clouds tens of thousands of feet above the Earth. And those airborne microbes could play a role in global climate.
most sampling efforts to date have been over land and close to the Earth’s surface. Athanasios Nenes, an atmospheric chemist at the Georgia Institute of Technology, says we still don’t know much about which microbes are living high up in the atmosphere or way out over the ocean.
Terry Lathem, a graduate student in Georgia Tech’s School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, takes notes aboard a NASA DC-8 aircraft gathering samples of microorganisms in the atmosphere.
To find out, Nenes had some of his students hitch a ride on a NASA airplane that was on a mission to study hurricanes. They made multiple flights and were able to collect air samples from about 30,000 feet over both land and sea. The samples turned out to contain some fungi — and a lot of bacteria. “And this was a big surprise because we didn’t really expect to see that many bacteria up there,” Nenes says.
It’s not exactly a friendly place. It’s cold, it’s dry, and there’s a lot of damaging UV light.
But Nenes says the bacteria seemed to be able to handle it. “They were alive,” Nenes says. “More than 60 percent of them were actually alive, and they were in an active state that that you could say they should be metabolizing and eating things that are up there.”
He says a more important implication of the study has to do with how clouds are formed.
Up at around 30,000 feet, most clouds are made of ice crystals, not water droplets. To start forming, those ice crystals need to grow around some kind of particle.
Lynn Russell, an atmospheric chemist at the University of California, San Diego, wasn’t involved in this research. “Prior to this study, we’d had very little evidence that bacteria were a substantial contribution to the particles that are up there,” Russell says.
She says there’s still so much we don’t know about how particles affect cloud formation, and how clouds affect climate. “One of the most uncertain aspects of predicting climate to this day is how we represent clouds and precipitation in global models,” Russell says.
Last February, the very thing an elite group of 16 skiers and snowboarders had sought — fresh, soft snow — became the enemy.
A STRONG RECOUNTING of a tragedy up close. Surely a story that highlights ”we all get the experience, only some get the lessons”. A long read but one that BACKCOUNTRY users should take the time to settle into… It’s very good! J.R. PLEASE READ MORE
Patagonia Catalogue Field Report
Featured in our Fall 2004 catalog
My work involves forecasting avalanches on a highway in southwest Colorado. Once you begin the life, it’s not easy to go back and learn from another. There’s just no time. I recently revisited an old ‘60s favorite, Chairman Mao’s Little Red Book, and he stressed that re-education is a necessary and important life process. I decide it’s time for re-education.
Saturday, July 5, 2003. I arrive in Chile to study under master snow-viewer, very old friend and avalanche forecaster for Ski Portillo, Señor Frank Coffey. An unusual six percent, low-density storm is my companion on arrival. Frank and the patrol go to work. One shot into the main gully above the plateau triggers a large slab avalanche that is heading uncomfortably toward us. Henry Purcell, the owner, suggests we cover up. We bend over in unison to take our punishment from a large powder cloud.
Frank descends into the Gargantita cliffs to retrieve a dud and triggers a meter-deep slab. He’s stuck on a 40-degree slope. A line is dropped and he climbs back to the land of the living. What’s the “sage wisdom,” I wonder to myself. “Experience is a series of nonfatal errors,” I conclude. In darkness, Coffey and I walk to La Posada for counseling. Six centimeters-an-hour stellar dendrites fall as we enter the warmth of the refugio for lomo pobre and pisco sours.
Monday, July 7, 2003. Seventy-six centimeters of wet, 14-percent-density snow falls from a morose sky. An inverted storm! It’s snowing eight centimeters an hour and things are starting to get ugly. A break allows us to get the avalanche work started. “Most of the control work is done by the storm,” Frank says. I hear avalanches running on both sides of the valley.
Tuesday, July 8, 2003. A storm stalls over the Andes with dying winds in its low-pressure spin. It’s snowing four centimeters an hour, with decreasing density. We’ve gotten over 200 centimeters in three days. I anticipate widespread slab avalanche activity, but there is little evidence. I don’t understand what’s happening. A half-meter of delicate snowflakes followed by 14 percent high-density snow with wind. The storm dies with goose feathers. Should I throw out everything I’ve learned? I think of Chairman Mao’s Little Red Book.
Thursday, July 10, 2003. Sitting on my pack high on a ridge above Portillo, I spot Frank as he digs the first of many snow pits to prepare for heli-ski clients. Silence surrounds me as condors circle above, looking for fresh meat. I descend to inspect the pit and pucker as I stare at three centimeters of weak graupel lying between two slab layers. Frank smiles. “A little paranoid?” he says. “The two meters that dropped here was a pretty big shock to the snowpack. There are rounds mixed with the graupel, good bonding and warm snow/air temps.”
My life experience in a cold/unstable Colorado snowpack has jaded me. My mind drifts back to the Little Red Book. We ski one at a time from the cliff bands to the landing zone. A series of fine powder turns all the way to the valley bottom. Encantado!
About the Author
Jerry Roberts is an itinerant adventurer, mountaineer and guide. He also is an avalanche forecaster for a highway in southwest Colorado and pursues winter snow in the southern hemisphere as a snow safety consultant for the Chilean mining industry. For a diversion from his real life, he sails his motorcycle south.
I hate to tell you this but my climate outlook has fully changed since we last talked! We were all prepared for El Nino to develop in September, then early October, and now it looks like we will ever quite get there.
This was particularly fun for me as I had a winter outlook all prepared for El Nino conditions, then of course had to quickly re-analyze for No Nino events.
That presentation is attached, and each slide has notes attached to explain, more or less.
Here is a short synopsis:
There have been 19 No Nino events since 1950, and within the last 15 years (the Trends period) there have been four seasons that perhaps best model what to expect this season:
The 1996-97 season was an above-normal snow year except below normal for the San Juan mountains. The rest were dry, 2001-02 extremely dry. 2008-09 was just below normal. So for the San Juan mountains, all four of these seasons were drier than normal.
These four years showed a bump in snowfall centered on December and April, with rain/snow line issues in April of course.
They also showed a dry fall season (so far so good) and dry February.
So I followed this for my outlook, a dry season overall but with a wet December and April. Northwest Colorado typically gets better snowfall than the rest of the state during No Ninos.
My extreme event analysis (ranking wet and dry snow years at all 7 mountain study sites and finding the widespread wet and dry seasons, slides 52-60) showed the extreme nature of No Nino years. That is they can be very wet or very dry. This is due to no preferred winter storm track during No Ninos. During El Nino the jet and storm track tend to be oriented along the southern tier of states, La Nina the northern tier of states. No Nino storm track ranges across the spectrum from southern Canada to northern Mexico. So if Colorado is in the storm track we have a wet winter. Unfortunately it seems easier to be out than in. My extreme event analysis shows No Nino years showing up in the snowy seasons, but really dominating the dry seasons. Now two extremely dry seasons in a row would be unprecedented for Colorado, at least in the 63 seasons since 1950, but it cannot be ruled out this season.
I looked at other subsets of No Nino as a model for this year.
1) No Ninos following La Nina
Both of these subsets showed generally dry conditions, yet still with snow production bumps around December and April.
So it is a wildcard year with about as much uncertainty as is possible.
Its going to be dry, maybe really dry, unless its really snowy!
All the Best,
National Weather Service Meeting Braves a Forecast
WESTERN COLORADO – “I hate to say it, but it still looks like a No Niño winter,” said Joe Ramey, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Grand Junction, addressing a roomful of snow and avalanche professionals at the 2012 Avalanche and Winter Weather Coordination Meeting last week.
Ramey defined a No Niño as a “neutral ENSO” (El Niño Southern Oscillation), rather than a warm-ocean El Niño or a colder-ocean La Niña. No Niño winters tend to be “wild cards,” Ramey said, often producing dry winters for western Colorado, but also generating what seems to be, in weather records going back to 1950, an unusual number of “extreme weather events” – very dry or very wet seasons.
Bottom line, said fellow meteorologist Mike Meyers, “neutral ENSOs make predicting the winter harder.”
Read more: No Niño Promises Only a ‘Wild Card’ Winter
ENSO Alert System Status: El Niño Watch
Synopsis: Borderline ENSO-neutral/ weak El Niño conditions are expected to continue into Northern Hemisphere winter 2012-13, possibly strengthening during the next few months.
During September 2012, the trend towards El Niño slowed in several key oceanic and atmospheric indicators. However, the Pacific basin reflects borderline ENSO-neutral/ weak El Niño conditions. Equatorial sea surface temperatures (SST) remained elevated across the Pacific Ocean (Fig. 1), although anomalies decreased during the month as indicated by weekly index values in the Niño regions (Fig. 2). The oceanic heat content (average temperature in the upper 300m of the ocean) anomalies also weakened (Fig. 3), but continued to show large regions of above-average temperatures at depth across the equatorial Pacific (Fig. 4). Interestingly, low-level westerly wind anomalies were evident over the equatorial western Pacific Ocean (Fig. 5), which may portend possible strengthening of the subsurface anomalies in the coming months. Despite these winds, the atmosphere was still largely ENSO-neutral, as reflected by the Southern Oscillation index and near-average upper-level and lower-level winds across much of the Pacific. Tropical convection increased near the Date Line, which is consistent with weak El Niño conditions, but also remained elevated over eastern Indonesia, which is further westward than expected (Fig. 6). Thus, the atmosphere and ocean indicate borderline ENSO-neutral/ weak El Niño conditions.
Compared to the past few months, the chance is reduced for El Niño to develop during Northern Hemisphere fall/winter 2012-13 (see CPC/IRI consensus forecast). Due to the recent slowdown in the development of El Nino, it is not clear whether a fully coupled El Niño will emerge. The majority of models indicate that borderline ENSO-neutral/ weak El Niño conditions will continue, and about half suggest that El Niño could develop, but remain weak (Fig. 7). The official forecast therefore favors the continuation of borderline ENSO-neutral/ weak El Niño conditions into Northern Hemisphere winter 2012-13, with the possibility of strengthening during the next few months.
This discussion is a consolidated effort of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), NOAA’s National Weather Service, and their funded institutions. Oceanic and atmospheric conditions are updated weekly on the Climate Prediction Center web site (El Niño/La Niña Current Conditions and Expert Discussions). Forecasts for the evolution of El Niño/La Niña are updated monthly in the Forecast Forum section of CPC’s Climate Diagnostics Bulletin. The next ENSO Diagnostics Discussion is scheduled for 8 November 2012. To receive an e-mail notification when the monthly ENSO Diagnostic Discussions are released, please send an e-mail message to: firstname.lastname@example.org.
WHAT THE REPORT MEANS TO ME…………JR
Compared to the past few months, the chance is reduced for the development of a full El Niño during the Northern Hemisphere fall/winter 2012-2013. The majority of models indicate a borderline ENSO-neutral/weak El Niño to continue and a little less than half of the models suggest that a weak El Niño could develop but remain weak. The official NWS forecast favors the continuation of borderline ENSO-neutral/weak El Niño for the next few months, with the possibility of strengthening in the coming months… Whatever develops from these forecasts, it doesn’t bode well for a normal/average winter H2O.
A cornfield in Nebraska, which has been suffering from drought.
WASHINGTON — A season of warmer ocean waters that has been expected to produce a Niño episode and perhaps bring relief from the continuing drought may turn out to be a bit weaker than advertised, according to climate experts.
The periodic upwelling of warmer waters in the eastern equatorial Pacific can be one of the most telling calls that a climatologist can make. A powerful Niño can drive global patterns of drought, storm, snow and flood, with big consequences for farmers and fishermen, relief organizations and reservoir operators, schoolchildren and ski bums.
But after seeing signals for months that a moderate Niño might be arriving right about now, the more likely case appears to be an episode that is weak indeed: probably short, and hardly nasty or brutish.
Scientists who predict the weather months in advance pay close attention to back-and-forth swings in what they call El Niño Southern Oscillation, or ENSO, which includes the mirror-image oceanic cooling called La Niña that probably made the past year’s drought worse. And recently they have been peering at their computer models from the edge of their seats, eager to detect the latest change.
“We believe that there will be an El Niño, but the strength of it is debatable, and it may be a fairly weak one,” said Huug van den Dool, a meteorologist at the federal government’s Climate Prediction Center.
“The bigger the El Niño, the bigger the effect,” said David Neelin, a professor of atmospheric and oceanic science at the University of California, Los Angeles. “This may be El Niño manqué, a borderline El Niño — a wannabe El Niño.
Ok El Nino is playing some October games with the winter ahead. Check out the new outlook and ocean temps in the Pacific.
I am not sure of your geographical area of interest. The first two graphs are for your NW San Juan Mountain drainage. Other drainages look somewhat similar, though the San Juan River group has had better runoff earlier this season than on your (north) side of the San Juan ridge (see figure 3). Figures 4 and 5 are percent of normal and departure from normal precipitation for all of Colorado this year. Finally at the bottom are some monthly precipitation data for Ridgway and Silverton.
You can see that this year is very dry but is not as dry as 2002. In addition, 2002 was preceded by two dry seasons, so all fuels even large fuels (such as large conifer trees) were under drought stress. Also reservoirs in 2002 were lower than they are this year which raised irrigation/agricultural drought concerns.
In ‘Patagonia,’ Pristine Rivers And A Plan For Dams—Directed by a former Prescott College student of mine…
The Baker River is one of two waterways that would be dammed in a proposed hydroelectric project in the fabled Patagonia region of Chile. This section of the river would become a reservoir under the plan.
The way the Andes divide Patagonia, Argentina gets most of the land and Chile most of the water. As shown in Patagonia Rising, a new documentary, the landscape on Chile’s side of the border is similar to coastal British Columbia or the Alaska panhandle: chilly, forested, mountainous and very wet.
As in many other Latin American countries, the water doesn’t belong to the people: The government utility that once controlled it has been privatized and is now owned mostly by European investors. Their goal is to dam the cascading rivers to generate electricity for the country’s north.Patagonia Rising makes a clear, if not particularly impassioned, case against this plan, which is well along the course to approval.
Five dams would rise on the Baker and Pascua Rivers, a $7 billion project in an area that currently lacks roads and utilities. The residents are mostly farmers who still travel by horse and ox cart; the only ones who have electricity get it from solar panels. There’s no Internet or cellphone service, although some people did recently get ham radios.
Director-editor-cameraman BRIAN LILLA’S film offers stunning views of the region and evocative glimpses of a near-vanished agrarian lifestyle. It also turns to environmental experts — mostly North American — to explain the effects of damming large rivers. These consequences turn out to be global.
On a regional level, the five dams would displace longtime inhabitants, degrade water quality and dramatically change the landscape. They could destabilize the area’s “warm glaciers,” which are just slightly below freezing and thus easily liquefied, and cause ruinous floods. The dams will also undermine a small but lucrative ecotourism trade.
Plus, they would generate electricity far from the market for it: The high-voltage transmission lines would have to run through a 1,200-mile clear-cut corridor to Santiago.
Patrick McCully, the Irish-American executive director of California-based International Rivers, looks beyond the immediate area. “Big dams destroy rivers,” he says, and are among the leading causes of extinction of freshwater creatures. They also deprive oceans of nutrients, leading to dead zones, loss of sea life and a lessened ability to moderate the planet’s climate.
Large dams are an archaic means of generating power, adds Stephen Hall, co-author of a National Resources Defense Council report on energy. He notes that Chile is well-positioned to produce electricity by wind, geothermal and solar energy; its northern desert is one of the globe’s most promising solar sites. In addition, he argues, as much as half of the juice generated by the seven dams could be replaced simply by modernizing Chile’s electrical use and grid.
The filmmaker also interviews proponents of the dam, including a corporate spokesman, people on the street in Santiago and Patagonian residents who expect to benefit from the construction. But their remarks tend to be shallow or self-interested.
The Atlantic Ocean, especially the North Atlantic, is peculiar: Every few decades, the average temperature of surface water there changes dramatically.
Scientists want to know why that is, especially because these temperature shifts affect the weather. New research suggests that human activity is part of the cause.
Scientists originally thought that maybe some mysterious pattern in deep-ocean currents, such as an invisible hand stirring a giant bathtub, created this temperature see-saw.
And that may be part of it. But there’s a new idea: The cause isn’t in the water; it’s above it — a kind of air pollution called aerosols.
Ben Booth, a climate scientist at Britain’s Met Office Hadley Center, says that aerosols create clouds.
“The more aerosols you have, the more places there are for water vapor to condense,” he says. “And so what aerosols do is they cool.”
They cool the ocean because clouds reflect sunlight back into space before it can hit the ocean.
Aerosols are fine particles like soot or sulfur compounds, mostly from burning fuel. They seed a kind of cloud that’s especially good at reflecting solar radiation back into space. Even on their own, without clouds, these aerosols act like sunblock.
Yesterday, we took a look at invisible winds suddenly made visible, streaming across the Earth. This being the blustery season, I’ve got more wind today, this time streaming across the sea, but looking uncannily like a van Gogh sky.
Most of the surface currents in the ocean are shaped by wind. In this visualization from the folks at NASA, the ocean is rich with lazy spirals that move in great circular sweeps (called “gyres”) clockwise in the northern hemisphere, counterclockwise in the south. Think of the ocean surface here as a reflection of the winds above, a kind of watery mirror (though the spinning of the Earth, tugs of sun and moon and obstruction of continents play a part.) Click on this video, and you’ll see the dance of wind-on-water everywhere.
I like watching the Gulf Stream roar past the tip of Florida in the beginning, all white and purposeful, heading up the North American coast. There’s something playful about water and wind bumping into large land masses likeAfrica, breaking into whirligig spirals, spinning along the shore. Then there’s the equator, which in this version seems almost wall-like. As the winds approach it, they flatten into jet like streams racing along a corridor.
What this map doesn’t show is the newest discovery created by ocean gyres. It’s called the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a vast, Texas-sized clump of human garbage floating in the Pacific. Created by a convergence of ocean currents and wind somewhere betweenHawaii andCalifornia, it’s not visible from satellites. Apparently, a thick blanket of pop bottles and chemical sludge sinks a little below the surface so it can’t be seen from above and, anyway, it turns out garbage doesn’t clump in a spiral; it looks more like a Nickelodeon splat, so if we could see the Garbage Patch, it would ruin the mood created here.
This is an image of wild wind, water and spiral beauty. And what does it say about us that our first human mark is a splat that feels like we’ve dropped some mud onto a van Gogh painting?
April 11, 9:47 a.m. | Updated with a reaction from Stefan Rahmstorf below |
Here’s a followup to my piece on how greenhouse-driven warming is loading the dice toward more hot weather extremes. In late March, the journal Nature: Climate Change published a “perspective” article by Dim Coumou and Stefan Rahmstorf of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research titled “A decade of weather extremes.” The piece, discussed by its authors on the RealClimate blog, was widely cited in news accounts and blogs as new scientific analysis.
The article summary is here:
The ostensibly large number of recent extreme weather events has triggered intensive discussions, both in- and outside the scientific community, on whether they are related to global warming. Here, we review the evidence and argue that for some types of extreme — notably heatwaves, but also precipitation extremes — there is now strong evidence linking specific events or an increase in their numbers to the human influence on climate. For other types of extreme, such as storms, the available evidence is less conclusive, but based on observed trends and basic physical concepts it is nevertheless plausible to expect an increase.
I sent the article around to some researchers working on these questions. Here are their reactions, along with another valuable assessment posted by Michael Tobis at Planet 3.0:
Daffodils bloomed in St James’s Park in London on March 1.
Some people call what has been happening the last few years “weather weirding,” and March is turning out to be a fine example.
As a surreal heat wave was peaking across much of the nation last week, pools and beaches drew crowds, some farmers planted their crops six weeks early, and trees burst into bloom. “The trees said: ‘Aha! Let’s get going!’ ” said Peter Purinton, a maple syrup producer in Vermont. “ ‘Spring is here!’ ”
Now, of course, a cold snap in Northern states has brought some of the lowest temperatures of the season, with damage to tree crops alone likely to be in the millions of dollars.
Lurching from one weather extreme to another seems to have become routine across the Northern Hemisphere. Parts of the United States may be shivering now, but Scotland is setting heat records. Across Europe, people died by the hundreds during a severe cold wave in the first half of February, but a week later revelers in Paris were strolling down the Champs-Élysées in their shirt-sleeves.
Does science have a clue what is going on?
The short answer appears to be: not quite.
The longer answer is that researchers are developing theories that, should they withstand critical scrutiny, may tie at least some of the erratic weather to global warming. Specifically, suspicion is focused these days on the drastic decline of sea ice in the Arctic, which is believed to be a direct consequence of the human release of greenhouse gases.
“Dad, what causes wind?” asks 6-year-old Calvin (of the comic strip Calvin and Hobbes).
“Trees sneezing,” his dad explains.
“Really?” says Calvin, amazed.
“No,” says Dad, “but the truth is more complicated.”
Well, it’s not that complicated. I can do better than Calvin’s dad. And anyway, I’ve just discovered a video (see below) that makes wind startlingly beautiful to think about. If only Calvin were around to show it to. What causes wind?
Well, wind begins with difference.
Little Cloud On A Sunny Day
Think of a patch of ground on a sunny day. Sunshine pours down. The air gets warmer. Along comes a cloud, not a big one, but big enough to cast a shadow. The air in that shadow cools a little.
Now we’ve got a difference: cool air is sitting next to warm air — and the air that’s warming up is getting lighter. The air that’s cooling down is getting heavier, and as the warmer air rises, the sinking cooler air slips in to take its place. That slipping in? You feel it as a gentle push against your cheek; that’s the beginning of a breeze.
Breezes, blustery days, wind — all come from warm and cool air slipping, sliding, tumbling, like kittens at play, across the earth. Normally you can’t see this happening, but two designers, Fernanda Viegas and Martin Wattenberg, have just made a moving map of the wind. If you were a wind god gazing down at America, this is what you’d see. This isn’t a painting. It’s the real deal, taken from the government’s National Digital Forecast database.
A couple enjoy a sunny afternoon against the backdrop of the Midtown skyline from Piedmont Park in Atlanta in late March.
Across the country, more than 7,700 daily temperature records were broken last month, on the heels of the fourth warmest winter on record.
While it might be time to lie on a blanket in the park, climate scientists are worried. They say all these sunny days are actually an extreme weather event, one with local and global implications. READ/LISTEN……