The spring equinox arrives Tonight (Wednesday evening) along with the third and final ‘Super Moon’ of 2019. The Washington Post

Screen Shot 2019-03-20 at 2.20.06 PM.png

March 20 at 7:00 AM

If you’re ready for warmer weather, blossoming trees and allergies, you won’t have to wait much longer. March 20 is the vernal equinox, which traditionally marks the first day of spring in the Northern Hemisphere.

This year’s equinox — which occurs Wednesday at 5:58 p.m. Eastern time — will also feature the third and final supermoon of 2019. Less than four hours after the equinox, the moon will appear full at 9:43 p.m. According to EarthSky, the spring equinox and full moon haven’t occurred this closely together since 2000.

While a full moon on the first day of spring is relatively rare, the vernal equinox happens every year on or around March 20. The equinox is the exact moment when the sun’s strongest and most direct rays shine on Earth’s equator before crossing into the Northern Hemisphere.

Wednesday is one of only two days of the year — the other being the autumnal equinox in September — when the Earth’s axis is tilted neither away from nor toward the sun. As a result, the Northern and Southern Hemisphere see approximately 12 hours of daylight and 12 hours of darkness. Most places on Earth, apart from the polar regions, also see the sun rise at due east and set at due west along the horizon.

The arrival of spring means the sun is climbing higher in the sky with each passing day. The sun is now up for more than 12 hours, and we’ll continue to see daylight increase for the next three months until we reach the summer solstice, the longest day of the year, June 21.

Not quite equal day and night

Though “equinox” comes from the Latin words “aequus” (equal) and “nox” (night), both of Earth’s hemispheres actually see slightly more than 12 hours of daylight on the equinox.

In Washington, sunrise on Wednesday will be at 7:12 a.m. and sunset will be at 7:20 p.m., bringing us a total of 12 hours and eight minutes of daylight. The date of the “equilux” — when sunrise and sunset occur exactly 12 hours apart — was March 17.

Why aren’t day and night exactly equal, as the name implies?

There are two reasons for this. One is atmospheric refraction, the bending of the sun’s light as it passes through Earth’s atmosphere. This causes the sun to appear slightly higher in the sky than it actually is.

The other is how we measure the length of a day. The sun appears as a disk in the sky, not a single point. Sunrise occurs as soon as the sun’s upper edge appears on the horizon, while sunset doesn’t occur until the sun’s upper edge disappears from the horizon.

Together, these factors add about 10 minutes of daylight to the equinox, depending on how far you live from the equator. (At high latitudes, near the North and South Poles, the atmosphere “stretches” the distance between the sun’s center and its outer edges more, causing the sun to take longer to rise and set.)

Rapidly increasing daylight

Every year around the March equinox, we see daylight increase faster than at any other time of year. Washington is now gaining about 2 minutes and 32 seconds of daylight each day. By the end of March, sunrise and sunset are more than 12½ hours apart.

Locations to our north are seeing even greater increases in daylight. In Boston, daylight is increasing by nearly three minutes each day. Seattle is tacking on 3 minutes and 27 seconds, and in Fairbanks, Alaska, the sun is up 6 minutes and 43 seconds longer with each passing day.

At lower latitudes closer to the equator, the increase is slower. Miami and Houston, for example, see their daylight hours increase by less than two minutes a day.

As the days grow longer and the sun climbs higher in the sky, temperatures start to warm up as well. The District’s average high temperature, now 57 degrees, hits 60 on March 27 and climbs to 71 degrees by the end of April. And although temperatures below freezing are not uncommon into the first half of April, the average date of the last freeze is quickly approaching inside the Beltway.

So, while it’s probably too early to hang up your winter coat for the season, the arrival of the spring equinox means that cold days are usually numbered. Now that the sun brightens our skies for more than 12 hours each day, it can only mean that warm spring weather is just around the corner.

Snow Researcher-Ward Church-by Dick Dorworth


Dr. James Edward ChurchJr., with goggles and snowshoesstanding on a snowy hillside (ca. 1920)


Dick Dorworth sent me his piece below for a story of James ‘Ward’ Church.  Enjoy and thanks so much Dick for sending your fine story of Ward Church and his love of snow.  rŌbert



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.


Amid 19-Year Drought, States Sign Deal to Conserve Colorado River Water ~ NYT

Lake Mead, the reservoir formed by the Hoover Dam, is at its lowest levels since the 1960s.CreditCreditJohn Locher/Associated Press
  • The water is saved, for now.


Seven Western states have agreed on a plan to manage the Colorado River amid a 19-year drought, voluntarily cutting their water use to prevent the federal government from imposing a mandatory squeeze on the supply.

State water officials signed the deal on Tuesday after years of negotiations, forestalling what would have been the first federally enforced restrictions on the river’s lower basin. But any victory may be short-lived. Climate change promises to make the American West increasingly hot and dry, putting further pressure on the Colorado and the 40 million people who depend on its water.

“We all recognize we’re looking at a drier future,” said Tom Buschatzke, director of the Arizona Department of Water Resources.

The water in Lake Mead, the vast reservoir formed by the Hoover Dam that supplies the lower basin, has dropped to levels not seen since it began to fill in the 1960s. Lake Mead and Lake Powell, another reservoir on the river, are essential sources of water for Southern California and Arizona, and sit at less than 40 percent full.


Without sacrifices by the states — Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming in the upper basin, and Arizona, California and Nevada in the lower basin — the reservoir could reach the trigger point next year, though recent heavy snowfall in the mountains that feed the river may help for a time.

Brenda W. Burman, commissioner of the Bureau of Reclamation, the federal agency that oversees the river, pressured states and their water agencies to make a deal. Without an agreement, she said, she would “take action to protect the river,” without specifying what that action would be.

In a conference call with reporters on Tuesday, she said she was “pleased to see their hard work is done.” The seven states and participating water districts sent a drought contingency plan to Congress, seeking legislation “for immediate implementation,” according to a statement from the bureau.

Intake pipes that once sat underwater on the banks of Lake Mead near Boulder City, Nev.CreditJohn Locher/Associated Press


“It’s a hard-to-put-together puzzle, all about sharing some burdens,” said Sharon B. Megdal, director of the Water Resources Research Center at the University of Arizona. The plan builds on water conservation efforts that have, for example, kept Southern California water use relatively flat for decades despite a population boom.


The Salton Sea is drying up in part because of measures taken by California farmers to use less water, which result in less runoff flowing into the lake. As it dries, fine dust from the lake bed blows into the air, which has been linked to childhood asthma and other illnesses.

Robert D. Schettler, a spokesman for the Imperial District, called the decision to move forward without its participation “unfortunate,” adding that a pact without the Imperial District “may mean getting it done, but not getting it right.”

The federal government regulates the water, but the states own the rights to it, said Jennifer Pitt, an expert on river issues with the Audubon Society. “So there’s a tension there,” she said. “The federal government’s consistent approach is to use that authority as a stick, but not ever go so far as to have to claim it.”

The river is important to the people who use its water, but also to “all of nature that depends on the river in the arid landscape of the Southwest,” Ms. Pitt said.

Another big risk is that Lake Mead could eventually drop below 950 feet, when water could no longer turn the dam’s turbines, or even 895 feet, when the lake would reach “deadpool” status and no water could flow out. That, said Patricia Aaron, a spokeswoman for the Bureau of Reclamation, need never happen. “That’s what the drought contingency planning on the river is about,” she said.

Beyond that drain, climate change is bringing on a long-term crisis. “The Colorado River, and the entire Southwest, has shifted to a new hotter and drier climate, and, equally important, will continue to shift to a hotter and drier climate for several decades after we stop emitting greenhouse gases,” he said in his testimony.

In an interview, Mr. Udall said the influence of climate change was already apparent in the West. “Climate change is not some distant process,” he said. “It’s here, it’s now, it’s in our faces. It’s creating messes we have to deal with.”

Jonathan T. Overpeck, a climate scientist at the University of Michigan, said that politicians and policymakers needed to factor climate change into their plans. Lack of river water will lead people to pump more groundwater, which was deposited in the ice ages. “We’re using this fossil groundwater in unsustainable ways,” he said.

In a warming world, Dr. Overpeck said, less water in rivers and lakes is inevitable, whatever relief a wet season might bring. But for the most part, Western political leaders “don’t want to talk about it,” he said. “It is the disaster that’s over the horizon, if we don’t talk about it.”


John Schwartz is part of the climate team. Since joining The Times in 2000, he has covered science, law, technology, the space program and more, and has written for almost every section. @jswatzFacebook

In ‘Horizon,’ Considering All That Is Connected ~ Barry Lopez new work … NPR


A Barry Lopez book is never a quick read: “Each place on Earth goes deep.”

Of course, deftly sketched landscapes are one of his chief delights — and Horizon, suspended halfway between travelogue and memoir, offers plenty of them. But Lopez — who often chronicles himself wandering from one landscape to another, or away from the group he’s journeying with, or away from the initial reason for coming to a place — wants us, above all else, to consider. To find context and connections. To think about where to go from here. To take our time.

Whatever time is left.

Lopez is one of America’s foremost naturalist writers. His 1978 Of Wolves and Men was a finalist for the National Book Award; the seminal Arctic Dreams won it in 1986. After nearly 40 years of writing and scholarship, there’s plenty of ground to cover in Horizon, physical and otherwise: the Galapagos; Australia; Kenya; Antarctica. And, inevitably, one of the things he must consider is the way global climate change is altering these landscapes forever. (In a haunting moment, Lopez stands on a ship with two other travelers, struck wordless by the Arctic sea before them — “not a scrap of ice.”)

The book is ordered vaguely by locations, but things come in and out like the tide; at any moment, we loop back in time, we shift place, we meet him at a different age, we go entirely elsewhere. It makes for dreamlike reading, and these are clearly locations and memories meant to be savored. With his signature style, he filters the landscapes through cultural contexts, political history, and sharp physical observation. And he asks questions — explicitly, but also implicitly. What do we do when those in power consider the natural world a resource and not a protectorate? Can those who are knowledgeable be heard? Can we get back some of what we’ve lost? How do we learn to rely on each other? Who can lead with compassion in such hard times? Is it already too late? Will we survive?


The book is awash in sublime and brutal details, both in natural terms and cultural ones. (The mummified bodies of seals on Antarctica are melancholy; geologists omitting locations of findings to hide them from souvenir hunters is tragic.) Occasionally there’s an awkward personal anecdote that suggests people are harder for Lopez to navigate than landscapes — recollecting stilted interactions with colleagues and locals, operating on cultural assumptions, or struggling with moments of his own guilt. And it’s noteworthy that Lopez’s place in elevated and academic circles sometimes align him with power in ways that are discomfiting. (In an archaeological camp in Kenya, watching his team leader speak with an upset Turkana elder, he realizes the expedition only has the government’s permission, not that of the people whose ancestral lands they’re standing on — yet only one of those officially mattered.)

But Lopez is a welcoming host as he brings you across the world. He’s especially at home in the cold, and the chapters in the Arctic and Antarctica are full of passages that, in their painstaking physicality, lead inevitably to deeper psychological places. The painful clarity of Antarctic water and the euphoria of polar bumblebees in an otherwise-quiet Arctic landscape; the contrasts and unparallels of the long-abandoned stone dwellings of the Arctic Thule people and the much-more-recently-abandoned hut outside Cape Crozier where British soldiers hunted penguin eggs.

The Lopez we see in Horizon is someone making his farewells, but this is also the writer who had Arctic Dreams and made an elegy of roadkill in Apologia: still as interested in the cruelties of the world as in its beauties, as forgiving of human frailty as of the necessity of one animal hunting another, and eager to wonder about the unknowable in-betweens.

To him, it is all connected. Horizon is a biography and a portrait of some of the world’s most delicate places, but at heart it’s a contemplation of Lopez’s belief that the only way forward is compassionately, and together. Whether that’s possible he doesn’t examine; then again, he describes so many things that don’t seem possible — what’s one more horizon to aim for?

Surrounded By Military Barracks, Skiers Shred The Himalayan Slopes Of Indian Kashmir ~ NPR

In a Himalayan valley surrounded by military barracks, blasts of artillery fire often reverberate across the icy mountain peaks. This is one of the world’s longest-running conflict zones. It’s near where India and Pakistan recently traded airstrikes. So it’s not unusual to see helicopters buzzing overhead.

But on a morning in early February, one particular chopper was not part of the conflict.

“I run Kashmir Heliski. We have clients from different parts of the world. We take people to 4,500 meters. They enjoy it!” says Billa Majeed Bakshi, a local skier turned businessman.

Since 2011, Bakshi has ferried more than 1,000 skiers and snowboarders nearly 15,000 feet up into the Himalayas, via helicopter, in Indian-administered Kashmir.

Kashmir is split between Indian and Pakistani control. The mountain valley is the site of a decades-long insurgency, as separatists on the Indian side fight for independence. Hundreds of thousands of soldiers are stationed on either side of the Line of Control, Kashmir’s de facto border. India blames Pakistani-based militant groups for attacks on Indian security forces, including a Feb. 14 suicide car bombing on the valley’s main highway.

But in the cold months, when the valley fills with snow, it also becomes a winter sports haven for a small but devoted gang of extreme sports enthusiasts. They often ski — “shred lines,” as boarders and ski bums put it — just a few hundred yards from the Line of Control, within view of Pakistani troops on the other side.

“I think it’s fantastic! I just wish we could get over their mountain ranges and shred with them too,” says Jimmy Hands, 41, who’s visiting from Toronto. “Look, nothing brings peace like a little bit of snow, and everybody’s been magical here! Like, it is magic.”

The powder this high up may be magical — but it also leads to avalanches. In early February, at least nine people died in avalanches triggered by a single snowstorm.

Someone who’s had an accident, whether it’s a fall on ice or they’re involved in an avalanche, to move that person to a hospital — that is a big challenge here, without the infrastructure of other countries,” says Brian Newman, a Coloradan who serves as the snow safety officer for the Gulmarg Ski Resort, a Kashmiri state government-run resort with two giant gondola lifts. During the recent Indian and Pakistani airstrikesand shelling over the Line of Control, the ski station at Gulmarg remained open for business.

The main Jammu-Srinagar highway, the only route connecting Kashmir to the rest of India, is often impassable for several days at a time because of snow. At the area’s main airport, flights regularly get canceled due to foul weather. Snowplows are in short supply.

Until the 1990s, Gulmarg, with fewer than 2,000 residents, was a sleepy hill station. The area, the Pir Panjal Range of the western Himalayas, was a summertime playground for India’s British colonial rulers, who came to escape the sweltering heat farther south. There’s still a British-built golf course.

Synonymous with romance and revolution, Kashmir has always captured the Indian imagination. Bollywood song sequences have long been filmed there. But after the state government built two gondolas in 1998 and 2005, Gulmarg began attracting more tourists from abroad, and increasingly from India too.

In 2007, the government hired Newman. He obtained explosives from the Indian military to blast off excess snow that might otherwise avalanche and imposed rules requiring skiers to carry avalanche beacons, shovels and probes. He even learned the Kashmiri language.

As India’s middle class grows, domestic tourists have been coming to Gulmarg in greater numbers. The state government says 800,000 Indian tourists visited Kashmir in 2018, along with 50,000 foreigners. There are traffic jams every Sunday afternoon, as day trippers, having paid about $5.25 for a scenic ride up the first gondola, exit the resort and drive back to Srinagar, the biggest city in the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir, about 30 miles away.

“It’s almost like a different world! You’re cocooned in this space between the sky and the snow,” says Nikita Kapoor, 29, visiting for a long weekend from Kolkata — where it never snows. “I’m learning how to snowboard for the first time, so it’s really exciting!”


Some fine history from Onno Wieringa

Hi Peter (Lev)
This article reminded me of when Ed LaChapelle
either wanted to or did get the national guard to 
spread coal dust on the village slopes in hopes
of gaining heat and settlement .  And one spring when I went to the desert and came home to a wet slide destruction from shooting until they got mass destruction.  I sheepishly asked if they had thought about taking the 50 folks left in town and just leaving for a few days or moving down to the lift company buildings……. no one had considered that option.   Aaahh ….. with a text that might have been averted.
Sent from my iPhone
Begin forwarded message:

Silverton officials close county roads, discourage backcountry use

It does not appear crews will trigger avalanches on Kendall Mountain

By Jonathan Romeo County & environment reporter

Thursday, March 14, 2019 11:30 AM


The town of Silverton and San Juan County have closed all travel on county roads because of high avalanche danger and are strongly encouraging people to avoid recreating in the backcountry.

In a news release issued Thursday afternoon, San Juan County’s Office for Emergency Management said county roads 2, 33 and 110, as well as Shrine Road, are closed to vehicle and pedestrian traffic.

“These road closures are about safety due to avalanche danger,” said spokeswoman DeAnne Gallegos. “Natural slides are running and covering the roads.”

Silverton officials also strongly discourage recreational use of the backcountry while high avalanche danger conditions exist.

“Our resources are maxed out,” Gallegos said, “and it’s incredibly dangerous.”

The Colorado Avalanche Information Center has listed the avalanche danger as “considerable” in the southern San Juan Mountains. Silverton officials fear the historic snow amounts have raised the potential risk for anyone venturing into the mountains.

“The worry is, with all this great powder, everyone and their brother are going to be out there,” said San Juan County Commissioner Scott Fetchenheir.

Brian Lazar, deputy director for CAIC, said the continuous snowfall in recent weeks has loaded up avalanche paths. As a result, when avalanches occur, they are big.

“These are not the type of avalanches you walk away from with a close call,” he said. “For people out there skiing, the threat is, if you end up triggering one of these avalanches, you are unlikely to survive.”

San Juan County Sheriff Bruce Conrad said he has jurisdiction to shut down public lands if it is a safety issue. However, at this time, he is opting to instead hope people take the stern warning to stay out of the backcountry while it remains avalanche prone.

A spokeswoman with U.S. Forest Service said the agency does not typically close public lands because of avalanche danger. The Bureau of Land Management did not respond to requests for comment.

Gallegos said Thursday crews will not trigger avalanches on Kendall Mountain that have the potential of reaching the town of Silverton for liability and safety reasons.

The blasting would have been a preemptive step to lessen the danger and bring snow down in a relatively controlled manner.

Local officials in Silverton are considering whether to trigger avalanches on Kendall Mountain that pose a risk of reaching homes and structures.


Two avalanche paths – the Idaho and Rabbit Ears – present risks to several homes on the east side of town.

A naturally triggered avalanche on the Idaho path reached the Animas River last week, Fetchenheir said. But storms this week put another 2 or 3 feet of snow in the mountains, renewing the fear of a slide.

Though blasting is not planned as of now, conditions could change and warrant the action, Gallegos said.

In the meantime, town officials are warning of avalanche danger, even around the perimeter of Silverton.

Roof avalanches, as well as damage to propane tank systems, are also dangers to be considered, officials said.

Silverton Mountain, on County Road 110, has suspended operations after a slide recently cut off access to the ski area.

On Wednesday, another slide ran across County Road 2, almost reaching an industrial park, Fetchenheir said.