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.
The San Juan Avalanche Project by Don Bachman-Silverton Mountain Journal–February 2001—Reposted because it’s such an important story in San Juan Mountain history–J.R.
In early May of 1971, I was detailed to Silverton by the Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research (INSTAAR),University of Colorado with a purchase order and instructions to locate a house of suitable size to base an office and living quarters for an avalanche research project.
That night I stopped at the Grand Imperial to listen in on a busy town of 850 people supported by the employment of two large mines, the Sunnyside and Idarado. I wasn’t long on the bar stool before two fellows got up from a table and sandwiched me, right and left with the admonition from the big one on the right of ”We don’t allow no #$%&*! hippies in here”. Well, I was fresh from the hippie-cowboy wars of Gunnison County, so not too concerned. My hair and beard weren’t really that long and I was a bit older and sober, and after all was still running a bar of my own back in Crested Butte and felt at the time, those attributes along with carefully honed negotiation skills and perhaps friendly allies could save the day. But, the bartender didn’t look too supportive of customer immunity, and for that matter did the rest of the crowded place.
Hmm, this wasn’t looking good, so I stuck out a hand and introduced myself to Clayton Hadden and Marvin Blackmore. That worked for a minute. Then I said I was in town to run the logistics for an avalanche project. Thank goodness, the other guy at the table they’d just left hopped up and said to leave me alone: he’s heard about this deal and I was probably ok.
That was the first of many times Tuffy Foster, Colorado Highway Maintenance Foreman for Red Mountain and Molas Passes, was to contribute to the well being of the San Juan Avalanche Project. Then Marvin bought me the first of many beers we shared over the years.
Dark-colored dust that settles on snow in the Upper Colorado River Basin makes the snow melt early and robs the Colorado River of about 5 percent of its water each year, says a new study co-authored by researchers from the University of Colorado at Boulder-based Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences, or CIRES.
As fascinating as macro photography is, most of us think we can’t do it because it requires specialized equipment. Russian photographer Alexey Kljatov, however, is an inspiration to aspiring amateur photographers everywhere – he created a home-made rig capable of capturing stunning close-up pictures of snowflakes out of old camera parts, boards, screws and tape. His pictures give us an enchanting close-up view of snowflakes that we could never hope for without specialized equipment.
The wonderful thing about snowflakes is that no two are alike. Their extraordinary diversity diversity stems from the many small changes in temperature and humidity that they experience while freezing on their way down to the ground. Their six-sided symmetry occurs because the crystalline structure of ice is also hexagonal. All of these many factors come together to create beautiful shapes that are almost always unique.
Kljatov’s rig creates the sort of photos that might otherwise require lenses or other equipment worth hundreds or thousands of dollars. And the pictures he creates with this rig look absolutely amazing. For more information about how he did it, check out his blog post.
Synopsis: ENSO-neutral is expected through the Northern Hemisphere spring 2014.
During October, ENSO-neutral persisted, as reflected by near-average sea surface temperatures (SST) across much of the equatorial Pacific Ocean (Fig. 1). During the month, slightly below-average SSTs were evident in most of the Niño regions, except for Niño-4, which remained near zero (Fig. 2). However, the oceanic heat content (average temperature in the upper 300m of the ocean) rose from near average to slightly above average (Fig. 3), due to the eastward shift of a downwelling oceanic Kelvin wave, which was reflected in the above-average subsurface temperatures across the western half of the Pacific (Fig. 4). The atmospheric circulation remained largely near average during the month, with generally small departures in equatorial convection (Fig. 5) and upper and lower-level winds. Collectively, these atmospheric and oceanic conditions reflect ENSO-neutral.
The majority of model forecasts indicate that ENSO-neutral (Niño-3.4 index between -0.5°C and 0.5°C) will persist into the Northern Hemisphere summer 2014 (Fig. 6). Though confidence is highest for ENSO-neutral, there are also growing probabilities for warm conditions (relative to cool conditions) toward the spring/summer 2014. The consensus forecast is for ENSO-neutral to continue through the Northern Hemisphere spring 2014 (see CPC/IRI consensus forecast).
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 5 December 2013. To receive an e-mail notification when the monthly ENSO Diagnostic Discussions are released, please send an e-mail message to: email@example.com.
Climate Prediction Center
National Centers for Environmental Prediction
NOAA/National Weather Service
College Park, MD 20740
What this means: J.R. Confidence seems high for ENSO-neutral conditions, but there are also growing probabilities for warming conditions toward the spring/summer 2014. Last winter (El Niño neutral) 2012/13 was below average for the San Juan Mountains. No-Niño years (neutral) often aren’t generous for above average winter snows.
Two years have come and gone and much has happened to make us grateful, but a tough time for many of us was losing brother Bean when he took another path July 10, 2011. He died a month short of his 38th birthday. We think of you often and surely miss you.
Teams looking for the brother of Colorado Sen. Mark Udall in western Wyoming’s Wind River Range have found his body, the family said Wednesday night.
James “Randy” Udall, 61, had left June 20 for a weeklong solo backpacking trip, setting off from a trailhead 10 miles northwest of Pinedale. He was due back a week ago.
Sen. Mark Udall’s office released a statement from the family saying Randy Udall’s body was found Wednesday. The family said that while an autopsy is forthcoming, it appears he died of natural causes.
“Randy left this earth doing what he loved most: hiking in his most favorite mountain range in the world,” the family said.
He had told his wife and indicated on a sign-in sheet at the trailhead that he planned to head for the scenic Titcomb Basin.
The family said Wednesday it appeared he was be on the obscure, off-trail route that he had proposed to his family.
“The entire Udall family is touched beyond words by the tremendous outpouring of support from people around the country. Randy’s passing is a reminder to all of us to live every day to its fullest, just as he did,” they said.
Randy Udall was an environmentalist and energy efficiency advocate whose family has been active in politics.
New Mexico Sen. Tom Udall is a cousin. His uncle, Stewart Udall, was Interior secretary in the 1960s. His father was the late U.S. Rep. Morris “Mo” Udall of Arizona.
Randy Udall helped found the nonprofit Community Office for Resource Energy Efficiency, which promotes the use of renewable energy in the Aspen, Colo., area.
I knew Randy fairly well having spent the better part of two winter months skiing the length of Colorado’s continental divide with him and a couple of other Crested Butte desperados back in the early 70′s and we also worked the Colorado Outward Bound School’s winter mountaineering program… He was surely a BIG life force. My respect and thoughts go out to the Udall family.
DUST LAYERS were thick and evident in the snowpack on top of Ophir Pass Tuesday afternoon. The dust accelerates the melting of the snowpack in Colorado’s high country, and a new study finds that the amount of dust being blown across the country is on the rise. (Photo by Brett Schreckengost)
A New Study Finds That Dust Blown Across U.S. Has Increased
WESTERN SAN JUANS – It’s a phenomenon many residents in the region know, anecdotally, to be true: The amount of dust being deposited by storms is on the rise. Now, a University of Colorado study is providing evidence this is correct.
The study, led by C.U. doctoral student Janice Brahney and recently published online in the journal Aeolian Research, found that the amount of dust being blown across large swaths of land in the Western U.S. has increased over the past 17 years.
Besides the fast-melting effects it can have on snowpack in the Rocky Mountains, Brahney said the higher levels of dust can have a host of other impacts, including impoverished soils where dust is being lost. Wind tends to pick up the finer particles in the soils, and those are the same particles that have the most nutrients and can hold onto the most soil moisture.
“Dust storms cause a large-scale reorganization of nutrients on the surface of the Earth,” Brahney said. “And we don’t routinely monitor dust in most places, which means we don’t have a good handle on how the material is moving, when it’s moving, and where it’s going.”
Increasing amounts of dust in the atmosphere also can cause people living in the rural West a variety of problems, including poor air quality and low visibility. In extreme cases, dust storms have shut down freeways, creating delays and hazards for travelers.
Study Sites within the NWS Grand Junction Forecast AreaHow Has the Climatological Average Changed over the Last 100 Years in Eastern Utah and Western Colorado?
Since 1911, the climate in eastern Utah and western Colorado has become warmer, especially the minimum temperatures. There is also some indication that the region has seen increased precipitation. After a cooling trend from the 1940s through the 1960s, the trend towards warmer and wetter conditions has occurred since the 1970s. These general trends in regional temperature and precipitation are matched in surrounding sites. Large decade-to-decade and site-to-site variability was noted in the temperature and precipitation data.
In 1911, the Wright brothers were flying in North Carolina, and the Ford Model T had been on the road for three years. In the new towns of eastern Utah and western Colorado, weather observers were beginning to record daily, monthly, and annual temperature and precipitation data. In eleven of those towns, those climate data continue to be recorded to this day. This study is an analysis of the trends in those data.
Courtesy of the Scripps Institution of Oceanagraphy at UCSD.
Atmospheric scientist Ralph Keeling, director of the CO2 program at the Scripps Institute of Oceanography in La Jolla, Calif., explains the importance of measuring a CO2 concentration of 400 parts per million at the observatory that his father, Charles Keeling, set up.
Catherine Brahic: The Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii has reportedly recorded a carbon dioxide concentration there of 400 parts per million for the first time. How significant is that?
Ralph Keeling: It’s a psychological milestone. Every year in the last few decades, CO2concentrations have been going up by about 2 ppm per year. Those changes go unnoticed, but people pay attention to round numbers. It gives you a bit of perspective on how far we’ve come—a bit like turning 40 or 50.
CB: So how far have we come?
RK: Before the industrial revolution, we started at about 280 ppm. One hundred years ago, levels had risen to around 300, and they crossed 350 in the late 1980s. We think the last time concentrations were as high as 400 ppm was between 3 and 5 million years ago, when the world was much warmer.
CB: What did Earth look like 3 million to 5 million years ago?
RK: It had much higher sea levels, forests extended all the way to the Arctic Ocean, and there was almost certainly a lot less sea ice. Today, sea ice is melting rapidly, and in the last decades we have seen the tree line moving north into the Arctic tundra.
CB: Are we in a climate danger zone?
RK: In my view, yes. At 400 ppm, we’ve perturbed Earth enough already that things could unfold that will be catastrophic.
CB: We passed 400 ppm for the first time last year, above the Arctic. What is special about the Mauna Loa record?
RK: It’s the one record that has high resolution going back to the late 1950s—when my father set it up.
CB: Why did he start tracking CO2 at Mauna Loa?
RK: In the early 1950s, he was at the California Institute of Technology studying carbon in rivers. As part of that, he developed a way to measure CO2 in the air. He discovered that if you measured concentrations in a sufficiently remote place, you almost always got the same number. That was unexpected. Previous work suggested CO2 levels were more variable, making measurement very difficult. The realization that there was a stable background level meant the challenge of measuring the increase might not be so great. You simply had to go to a place far enough from contamination and track it over time. The Mauna Loa measurements came later, beginning in 1958.
CB: When did he first see a steady rise in CO2—what is now known as the Keeling curve?
RK: The early days at Mauna Loa were fraught. Power outages meant the measuring instrument had to be shut down for weeks. It would come back on reading a different level. He thought there should be a stable background, but concentrations were fluctuating. It was only when he’d gathered a year of data that he realized there was a seasonal cycle.
CB: So levels may drop below 400 ppm again?
RK: Crossing from below to above 400 will play out over years, partly because there is a natural up and down with the seasons. But this time next year it will be higher still. In a couple of years we’ll never get below 400 again.
This article originally appeared in New Scientist.
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.”
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