1983, the year Glen Canyon dam nearly failed ~ Arizona Central

Tim Lane and I were still sweeping storm boards on Red Mountain Pass, June of 1983 for the Insitute of Arctic and Alpine Research San Juan Project.  It was a big winter but the heavy snows (above normal density, almost 15% or twice the average) didn’t really begin until February and continued much like  this year (2019) into late spring (June).  It was truly an amazing experience on a daily basis wondering if the storms were ever going to end.  All of this snow finally melted in the north San Juan mountains and flowed into the Colorado river basin and eventually to Glen Canyon dam to overflow its top..  Kevin Fedarko wrote ‘The Emerald Mile‘ that contains a fine chapter on the winter of 1983 that created this near disaster.  

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The first public sign that something was up came in the form of a short story in the Arizona Daily Sun in Flagstaff. It was only six paragraphs, but it appeared on the front page above the fold:

“Glen Canyon Dam Water Releases to Increase,” the headline read.

It was June 2, 1983, and the story didn’t even begin to hint at the drama that was about to unfold.

“PAGE — Early snowmelt due to higher than normal temperatures is forcing the earlier than normal release of water from Glen Canyon Dam here, authorities said Thursday.”

Almost every word was an understatement.

“The water releases were to begin at noon today and (Glen Canyon recreation area superintendent John) Lancaster said they could go as high as 38,000 cubic feet per second,” the story said.

The releases were likely to continue for the next month and campers along the Colorado River were advised to seek higher ground and secure their boats.

Two weeks earlier, embattled Interior Secretary James Watt had paid a visit to Glen Canyon, the nation’s second highest concrete arch dam, to celebrate the 20th anniversary of its completion.

Soaring 710 feet and anchored in Navajo sandstone, the dam was conceived in desert thirst, born into controversy, and swaddled in argument.

The debate over Glen Canyon Dam was not just emblematic of the new American West, but part of its fabric.

On one side, Native Americans and environmentalists decried the loss of a pristine canyon filled with sacred and historic sites and an ecosystem as beautiful and enigmatic as the Grand Canyon. On the other, developers and chambers of commerce argued for the need to protect downstream users from flooding and to provide the water and power needed to turn small desert cities into the sprawling metropolises they’ve become today.

By June 1983 the debate had long been settled in favor of growth, but there was a new question looming: Could people safely control nature? It was a question fueled by nature’s unpredictable wrath as 8 trillion gallons of water in one of the nation’s largest reservoirs bore down on 10 million tons of concrete in one of the nation’s largest engineering marvels.

It was uncharted territory for both people and nature, and the stakes were high.

Within a month of the AP news story, water in Lake Powell would come within inches of topping the dam’s massive spillway gates as engineers frantically tried everything they could think of, rigging 4-by-8 sheets of plywood to extend the top of the gates and releasing more than half a million gallons per second into the Colorado River.

de3beb03-8163-4a46-984a-e32f43900759-Dam-Flashboards_7-7-1983_copy.jpgLake Powell water levels rose steadily during June and July 1983, forcing the Bureau of Reclamation to use plywood barriers to keep the lake from spilling over the closed gates on Glen Canyon Dam.
(Photo: Photo courtesy Bureau of Reclamation)

 

Before it was over, the force of the water releases would gouge house-size holes in the dam’s crippled concrete spillways. The white water would tinge red from the bedrock sandstone, and ominous rumbling sounds would be heard as boulders the size of cars belched from one of the spillways into the river.

The more water the engineers released, the more damage they did. But they had no choice.

“We were sitting on a pretty good catastrophe waiting to happen,” said Art Grosch, an electrician who worked at the dam and ran electrical cable into the mangled spillways.

“That lake (Powell) is 190 miles long and has something like 2,300 miles of shoreline,” he said. “And it was rising a foot a day.”

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Monsoon update from Joe Ramey, Mountain Weather Master and former meterologist with the NWS

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Remember me? Climate is nearly always more interesting in the rear view mirror. It has been a very interesting year so far with the startling cool wet winter and spring that completely erased drought from Colorado. Now we have this overdue monsoon that has dried all those early-season grasses into kindling. Monsoon seasons too are best resolved in the rear view mirror. Perhaps we will say the third week in July was the beginning.
At the NWS offices here in GJ and down in southern NM, we had an adage: the monsoonal moisture won’t get pulled up into the Rockies until mountain snow melt is complete. The idea is, it is difficult to create a Four-Corners thermal Low while the sun’s regional energy is still being used to transition ice to water and vapor. And since Low pressure sucks, its hard to suck in the subtropical moisture without it.
So I was surprised in late June when the CPC outlook showed above normal precipitation chances for western Colorado while the high-mountain snowpack was still impressively deep and the 10-day forecast models still looked dry. Since I had no finger on the pulse I thought those climate guys must be onto something interesting. Well we are still waiting for something interesting.
The new one and three month outlook is no longer excited about the Southwest monsoon.

 

But there is some reason for hope. The vast majority of the mountain snowpack is in the rivers and the wee rest will follow shortly. The weather pattern turns more favorable: the subtropical High has been suppressed to our south but begins to rebound northward this weekend as a trough comes in off the Pacific. So this will produce a S-SW flow. There is an inverted trough that looks to work up from Mexico next week perhaps up into western Colorado by mid-week. This could bring deep moisture with it. Of course that will render my swamp cooler useless here in GJ so I will venture out in the early morning only. Lets hope it happens! Water is life.
Hope your summers are going well.
Joe Ramey

Odds Favor Wetter than Normal July as Monsoon Season Looms ~ NWS, Grand Junction

Odds Favor Wetter than Normal July as Monsoon Season Looms

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The Climate Prediction Center recently released their latest monthly temperature and precipitation outlooks for July 2018. Odds are favoring wetter than normal conditions developing across much of the southwestern United States, especially in the Four Corners area. The wet conditions look to continue through September as the CPC’s three month outlook (including the months of July, August and September) shows odds favoring above normal precipitation. As far as temperatures are concerned, odds favor warmer than normal temperatures across Utah and into far western Colorado for July with above normal temperatures favored across the entire western United States through September.

July 2018 Temperature and Precipitation Outlooks

July 2018 Climate Outlook

Three Month Temperature and Precipitation Outlooks

(Including the months of July, August and September)

Three Month Climate Outlook

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What is the Monsoon?

The North American Monsoon Season typically begins towards the end of July and continues through early September. It is associated with a long duration weather pattern shift as the subtropical ridge of high pressure amplifies and moves to our east. This results in a shift in upper level winds with the flow turning to the south, allowing for moisture to be pulled northward from the Pacific Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico.

Monsoon Schematic

Dallas is swallowed by a massive ‘rain bomb’

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Heavy rains and storms left parts of Louisiana underwater due to severe flooding June 6.

June 9, 2017

I feel like we need a sound effect for this one. Would it sound like a whoosh? Maybe a crashing wave?

It’s not every day you see a textbook microburst like this one caught on camera, but Toddy Jack managed to get this insane photo on Sunday afternoon. At the time, Dallas was getting drenched with heavy rain as this nearly stationary storm sat over the area. Then it finally and literallyunloaded all of its precipitation in a giant “rain bomb” — right over downtown.

A microburst is a sudden but powerful area of sinking air, associated with the downdraft area of a thunderstorm. While microbursts are typically small, and 2.5 miles in diameter or smaller, they can do incredible damage. Microbursts can have wind speeds in excess of 100 mph, and have been known to do so much harm that the destruction left behind can be mistaken for tornado damage.

A microburst occurs when a thunderstorm simply can no longer “hold” its precipitation. Think of it as being like a brown paper grocery bag. When the bottom of the bag can no longer support the weight of the groceries within, it breaks and all your apples, oranges, etc. fall and spread out all over the floor. Microbursts behave the same way.

When an updraft is strong, it can hold and suspend large amounts of rain droplets as well as hail within the cloud. When the updraft weakens, as is especially typical with a vertically stacked summertime storm, it can no longer hold that rain and hail within. Eventually, the updraft collapses, and all the precipitation crashes to the ground and spreads out in all directions.

While microbursts can do extreme damage to buildings and landscapes such as forests and croplands, they are especially dangerous for aircraft. It is impossible to predict when and exactly where a microburst may occur during a thunderstorm, which makes planes that are either taking off and especially landing (times when the planes are closest to the ground) susceptible if caught in one of these powerful downdrafts. Unfortunately, several fatal airline crashes in history can be attributed to microbursts.

There are actually two types of microbursts: wet and dry. Wet microbursts are most common in the Southeast during the summer months, while dry microbursts are more common over the West. The storm over Dallas on Monday was a wet microburst, as seen by the dark rain curtain spilling out of the cloud.

Microbursts are also known for the visual feature called “rain foots” (think Elf Shoes) that occur when the rain and/or dust hits the ground, then curls back upward as it spreads out horizontally on each side.

 

Stunning video of a ‘particularly dangerous’ tornadic storm from 22,236 miles in space


View of tornadic thunderstorm Sunday over the Texas Panhandle from GOES 16 satellite. (NOAA Satellites)

May 6 at 3:07 PM

 

 

What does a tornadic thunderstorm look like from space? The GOES-16 satellite captured a stunning view of a Texas supercell Sunday evening as it dropped a photogenic twister amid a busy day for severe weather in the Plains.

The twister struck just east of Tahoka, a community of 2,600 about 20 minutes south of Lubbock. It quickly grew into a large tornado, with the National Weather Service warning, “This tornado is wrapped in dust and rain and may be difficult to see.” The warning was labeled PDS — a rare “particularly dangerous situation.”

No injuries were reported, but the storm damaged power lines and barns and tore the roof off a home, according to EverythingLubbock.com. The tornado was one of 23 reported to the National Weather Service between Texas and Nebraska on Sunday.

Video shot by storm chasers shows the tornado dancing elegantly and ominously as it becomes enshrouded in rain, hail and dust. The dust acts as a tracer showing the pattern of the winds near the surface as they feed into the vortex from all angles. It’s a remarkable scene — but 22,236 miles above the surface, the view was equally impressive.

The GOES-16 satellite tracks cloud-top temperatures, a good indicator of just how high is a cloud. As the cap (a stable air layer that prevents early storm formation) erodes and storms explode, towers can be seen billowing upward like steam penned up beneath a lid in a pot of boiling water.

To better understand this feature on satellite, imagine holding a flaming lighter a few inches beneath a giant piece of white paper. The spot of paper just above the lighter would quickly become discolored and eventually burn. Then imagine moving the paper, as though it’s being blown by jet steam winds. Now instead of a burn, there’s a dark stripe marking all the places torched by this heat source. That’s kind of how an intense anvil can stretch so far downstream of a very localized heat source.

It’s important to note that the towering anvil cloud is not a hot plume, rather, a thick cloud of frozen particles (ice crystals and snow flakes).

Remnants of the storm’s anvil are carried hundreds of miles downwind, over long distances by the strong jet stream winds. Meanwhile, a constant plume of upward motion farther west sustains the behemoth storm, its updraft plume marked by a bubble of red colors. That’s the “overshooting top” — the product of an updraft so strong the storm punctures the tropopause — ordinarily an effective “ceiling” or stable layer for weather systems. But when a pocket of air rises with enough momentum, it struggles to put the brakes on even when it shouldn’t be able to rise. That’s a surefire sign of a vicious storm.

As a result, the cloud tops are extremely cold since they reach so high. Some may appear a bit warmer because of contact with the stratosphere — a region about 10-12 miles above the ground where temperature climbs with height.


A 3-D radar view of tornadic thunderstorm Sunday over Tahoka, Tex. (GR-2, adapted by Matthew Cappucci)

 

 

At the same time, ripples can be seen propagating throughout the anvil. These are little waves in the upper atmosphere caused by disturbances originating from the turbulence around the overshooting top. It would be like diving to the bottom of a pool and then blowing a really big bubble. When that pocket rises (less dense) and then hits the top, concentric wavelets would ripple outward from the center.

Ground-based radars offered an equally remarkable perspective, peering into the storm and noting a rain-free void where the updraft was so intense that precipitation was unable to fall. Dust along a boundary wrapping into the tornadic circulation can be seen, as well.


Close-up 3-D view of tornadic thunderstorm Sunday in Tahoka, Tex. (GR-2, adapted by Matthew Cappucci)

 

 

They’re images that combine natural beauty with raw destructive power, and similar scenes may unfold on the Plains in the days ahead. Following scattered afternoon storms Monday, a more significant severe weather event could play out Tuesday and Wednesday.

Trump administration has EPIC plan to develop the world’s smartest weather forecasting model ~ The Washington Post

NASA visualization of Hurricane Sandy. (NASA)

April 23 at 5:00 PM

It was October 2012 when the European weather prediction model beat its American counterpart in forecasting Hurricane Sandy’s hard left turn into the U.S. coastline. What scientists had known for years — that the European forecast model was superior to the American — caught the attention of the U.S. public and Congress.

Since then, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, with funding support from Congress, has worked intensely to improve the American model. It has boosted its computing power, improved the way it brings in data, and enhanced how it simulates weather systems at small scales. Yet, more than six years later, it still trails the European model in overall accuracy.

Neil Jacobs, the acting head of NOAA and a meteorologist, is committed to closing the gap between the models. Since being appointed to the Trump administration, he has made one of his top priorities installing a process that will allow U.S. forecast modeling to reach its potential and become world-class.

As part of its 2020 budget request, to the tune of $15 million, NOAA has proposed the establishment of the Earth Prediction Innovation Center (EPIC), which it says “will advance U.S. weather modeling and reclaim international leadership in the area of numerical weather prediction.”

In an interview, Jacobs blamed recent U.S. modeling shortfalls on a lack of research investment. He said the United States now spends about the same amount on operating its flagship model, the Global Forecast System (GFS), as it does on research initiatives to improve it. By contrast, the European Center for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts spends roughly five times as much on research. Jacobs said he’d like to see NOAA “grow research five times” to keep pace.

This is where EPIC comes in.

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