Dec. 26, 2022

An aerial photograph of farm equipment in a field.
Credit…Rebecca Noble/Reuters

By Natalie Koch

Natalie Koch is a professor of geography at Syracuse University and the author of a forthcoming book about the relationship between Arizona and Saudi Arabia.

Arizona’s water is running worryingly low. Amid the worst drought in more than a millennium, which has left communities across the state with barren wells, the state is depleting what remains of its precious groundwater. Much of it goes to private companies nearly free, including Saudi Arabia’s largest dairy company.

Thanks to fresh scrutiny this year from state politicians, water activists and journalists, the Saudi agricultural giant Almarai has emerged as an unlikely antagonist in the water crisis. The company, through its subsidiary Fondomonte, has been buying and leasing land across western Arizona since 2014. This year The Arizona Republic published a report showing that the Arizona State Land Department has been leasing 3,500 acres of public land to Almarai for a suspiciously low price.

The case has prompted calls for an investigation into how a foreign company wound up taking the state’s dwindling water supplies for a fee that might be as low as one-sixth the market rate. But the focus on the Saudi scheme obscures a more fundamental problem: pumping groundwater in Arizona remains largely unregulated. It’s this legal failing that, in part, allows the Saudi company to draw unlimited amounts of water to grow an alfalfa crop that feeds dairy cows 8,000 miles away.

Even if Fondomonte leaves the state, it will be only a matter of time before Arizona sucks its aquifers dry. While a 1980 state law regulates groundwater use in a handful of urban areas, water overuse is common even in these places. The situation is worse in the roughly 80 percent of Arizona’s territory that falls outside these regulations. In most of rural Arizona, whoever has the money to drill a well can continue to pump till the very last drop.

Many more agricultural operations are drawing down the state’s underground water reserves free. And most of them are U.S.-owned. Minnesota’s Riverview Dairy company, for example, has a farm near Sunizona, Ariz., that has drained so much of the aquifer that local residents have seen their wells dry up. Meanwhile, some California-based farms, facing tougher groundwater regulations at home, are looking to relocate to neighboring Arizona for cheap water. These companies and other megafarms can afford to drill deep wells, chasing the rapidly sinking water table.




The lens-shaped ‘lenticular’ cloud was sculpted by nearby mountains

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By Matthew Cappucci

January 22, 2023

An extraordinary cloud formation hangs in the sky over Bursa, Turkey, on Thursday in this image obtained from a social media video. (Hafize Aktas/Reuters)

As a round, orange-tinted cloud hovered Thursday over Bursa, Turkey, it might have looked like a flying saucer was about to land. But it was just a lenticular cloud — not uncommon in the vicinity of tall mountains.

Photographs and videos of the cloud have gone viral, captivating viewers around the world. Some have questioned the legitimacy of the images. But they’re genuine, and they offer an opportunity to dive into some fascinating meteorology.

Strange cloud lights sky in Weed, Calif.

Bursa — where the cloud was seen — is about 50 miles south of Istanbul, across the Sea of Marmara. It’s home to about 2 million people.

How did it form?

Another view of the lenticular cloud in Bursa. (Hafize Aktas/Reuters)

Integral to our meteorological detective work is knowledge of the surrounding area. In this case, a quick bit of online research finds that Bursa is nestled in the foothills around 8,343-foot Mount Uludag just to the south.

The lenticular cloud in photographs is a textbook example. It resembles a stack of pancakes or hockey pucks in the sky.

Lenticular cloud hovers like a saucer over South American Andes

Lenticular clouds form in linearly stratified environments — or those characterized by a perfectly layered atmosphere. (Picture “settled” salad dressing that has separated into layers based on the density of ingredients. The atmosphere does the same thing; we just can’t see it.)

Under ordinary circumstances, those layers remain separated. But if an obstruction or obstacle (like a mountain) spans multiple layers, air from below can be forced upward, interrupting the otherwise perfectly layered environment. This is especially true when winds closer to the ground push air masses toward rising terrain, so they have no option but to rise as well.

Because air near the ground ordinarily holds more moisture than the air above it, that pocket of near-surface air winds up moister than the surrounding environment. And since air temperatures cool with height, that air parcel may be chilled down to its dew point as it ascends. When that happens, the air becomes saturated — and forms a cloud.

But the influence of the mountain doesn’t last forever. In fact, once the bunched-up air has passed over the mountain or obstruction, it descends to its original level — warming up, drying out and eroding the cloud. Thus, the cloud is present only over the top of the mountain and just downwind, forming a hat-like cap cloud that is often circular.

Even though lenticular clouds appear to remain stationary over the top of the mountain, they’re actually formed in very windy environments. Remember — they’re born from a stream of air forced up and then back down, so there’s a constant channel of air flowing through them. On Thursday, strong winds from the south were blowing over western Turkey because of low pressure over northern Italy.

Other notable examples

A gorgeous lenticular cloud downwind of Mount Shasta in Northern California in February 2020. (Paul Zerr/Shasta-Trinity National Forest) 

What made the cloud in Bursa especially aesthetically pleasing was the time of day it formed — shortly before sunrise. Its altitude, probably around 10,000 to 20,000 feet, allowed it to catch sunlight and be illuminated before the sun actually poked over the horizon and bathed the city in amber warmth.

In the United States, lenticular clouds are common in western areas, where Pacific moisture is forced over the high terrain of the Rockies. The greater the variations in topography, the more prominent the resulting lenticular. They’re frequently spotted perched above Mount Rainier in Washington state.

They can form in the eastern United States, too, including in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic. One example from last spring depicts an invasion of shallow lenticular clouds in the D.C. area.

In Gibraltar, an ever-present lenticular cloud known as the “Levanter” is a staple of the city’s skyscape.


.January 22, 2023


LISTEN· 4:24

This winter, the West has been slammed by wet weather. Heavy rains have pummeled California, and the Rocky Mountains are getting buried with snow.

That’s good news for the Colorado River, where that moisture hints at a possible springtime boost for massive reservoirs that have been crippled by drought. Climate scientists, though, say the 40 million people who use the river’s water should take the good news with a grain of salt.

Snow piled high in the Rockies is crucial for the Colorado River — a water lifeline for people from Wyoming to Mexico in an area commonly referred to as the Colorado River Basin. Before water flows through rivers, pipelines and canals to cities and farms across the region, it starts as high-altitude snow. In fact, more than two-thirds of the river begins as snow in Colorado. This year, snowfall totals are well above average, but climate scientists say the winter is far from over and conditions could change bringing less precipitation.

“Everybody is so eager to make an early call on this,” said Brad Udall, a water and climate researcher at Colorado State University. “Invariably, you’ll get caught with your pants down if you think you know what’s going to happen.”

The Colorado River is in crisis, shrinking at the hands of climate change. A 23-year “megadrought” has created the region’s driest conditions in 1,800 years. That has created a yawning supply-demand imbalance for a multibillion-dollar agriculture sector and large cities — such as Denver, Phoenix, Salt Lake City, Las Vegas and Los Angeles — that depend on the river’s water.

More eyes are now turning to the snow-laden mountains that keep the river flowing and help to fill the nation’s two largest reservoirs, Lake Mead and Lake Powell. Those reservoirs have dropped to historic lows — jeopardizing hydropower for millions of people and threatening the need for costly modifications to the towering dams that hold the water back.

Meanwhile, mountain snow totals are off to a promising start. Around Snowmass in Colorado the snowpack is 130% above average for this time of the year. The Roaring Fork watershed, which includes Aspen and Snowmass, makes up only 0.5% of the landmass in the Colorado River Basin but provides about 10% of its water.

In other nearby mountain ranges, snow totals are between 140% and 160% above average. Even if those numbers persist until spring, the severity of the Colorado River’s drought means many more years of heavy snow are needed to make a serious dent in the low water levels.

“It’s great to see a big snowpack,” Udall said. “We would need five or six years at 150% snowpack to refill these reservoirs. And that is extremely unlikely.”

The long view

A string of wet years is unlikely because of rising temperatures driven by climate change, Udall said. Since 1970, temperatures in the Colorado River Basin have gone up by three degrees Fahrenheit. Those higher temperatures have already caused a 15% drop in streamflows across the region.

Warming has driven a raft of worrying environmental changes across the region. In recent years, scientists have sounded the alarm about soils drying out. The ground has become parched and soaks up snowmelt before the water has a chance to reach the places where people divert and collect it.

Already, Udall said, winters with 90% of average snowpack have led to only 50% spring runoff because thirsty soil acts like a sponge.

Even the concept of “average” has changed due to warming temperatures. In spring 2021, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration shifted how it calculates averages for all of its data.

Every 10 years, NOAA moves the three-decade window that it uses for averages. But the rapidly accelerating effects of climate change mean the current window from 1991 to 2020 sticks out from previous 30-year periods because it includes the hottest-ever period in America’s recorded history.

Because of that, snowpack data tells a somewhat deceptive story. For example, if snowpack is at 130%, the number would appear substantially lower if current totals were compared to normal snowpack going back further than 30 years.

Man, we need to continue to plan for the worst here,” Udall said. That’s what we’ve seen the last 23 years. That’s what these warming temperatures continue to tell us.”

Tough to plan

Planning has become much harder as shifting baselines make the future of water availability less predictable.

Cynthia Campbell, who has advised the city of Phoenix on water law for over a decade, knows this firsthand. The nation’s fifth-largest city gets more than one-third of its water from the Colorado River.

“Our worst case scenario, from our perspective, is that we have to be in the habit of annually looking to the mountains to see what is the precipitation,” Campbell said.

She said reservoirs should function as a buffer against the fluctuation of dry years and wet years. But with reserves shrinking to never-before-seen lows, cities around the arid West can only plan one year at a time.

“That’s just not enough time to make changes that you would have to make,” Campbell said with a nervous chuckle. “But that is where we are. So, in some ways, it might be our worst nightmare.”

Campbell and Phoenix residents are not alone in their hand-wringing.

As supply shrinks, the seven states that use water from the Colorado River have been caught in a standoff over how to reduce demand.

Water allocation across the basin is governed by a 1922 legal agreement that hasn’t been substantially rewritten to meet the needs of a changing region. Some experts suggest that agreement — the Colorado River Compact — should be replaced to meet the modern demands of a region with sprawling fields of crops and booming urban populations.

As the drought has worsened, states have agreed on a patchwork of tweaks to prop up reservoirs and stave off catastrophe, but they have been unable to reach a deal for larger, more permanent cutbacks of water use.

At meetings about the river’s future, delegates from the seven states — including Colorado, Utah, Arizona, and California — are quick to talk about the need for a collaborative solution to their collective problem but are reluctant to commit to sacrificing portions of their own shares.

The current managing guidelines for the river expire in 2026, and states are mostly focused on drawing up a new agreement before then. Policy analysts and water managers have hinted that major cuts will have to come from the agricultural sector, which uses more than 70% of the Colorado River’s water.

Making water supplies last

In the meantime, cities have had to get creative to stretch finite quantities of water for their growing populations. Those efforts have not been changed by this winter’s strong mountain snow or the rain that drenched California for days, causing major flooding and widespread damage.

“One storm is not going to change the game whether we get a wet year or not,” said Adel Hagekhalil, general manager of the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California. “We need to continue to focus on building the infrastructure we need to create local water supply.”

The district supplies drinking water to 19 million people from north of Los Angeles to the Mexican border. The agency has undertaken a number of ambitious projects to reuse water that is already in the system.

One proposed facility in Carson, California, would clean up sewage to make it drinkable. The treatment setup is projected to cost $3.4 billion to build. Once completed, it would cost $129 million to operate each year. That new facility aims to redirect up to 150 million gallons back into the municipal water supply in and around Los Angeles.

Water agencies in Nevada and Arizona plan to pitch in, helping pay for the project in exchange for some of Southern California’s water. The hefty price tag is just one example of the many new infrastructure costs cities may incur due to climate change.

“We have to be ready,” Hagekhalil said, “And it will be on us if we’re gonna take the right actions today to invest and build the necessary infrastructure.”

Elsewhere around the Colorado River Basin, governments have teased the idea of investing in other ways to augment existing water supplies. Last year, Arizona’s then-governor Doug Ducey proposed a deal with Mexico in which the state would fund an ocean desalination plant on the Gulf of California. That would allow Mexico to use the newly-desalted water in exchange for some of Mexico’s share from the Colorado River.

Inventive solutions like wastewater reuse and desalination have generated buzz among denizens of the region’s parched cities. But water policy analysts say none of them can serve as a silver bullet for those who depend on the shrinking Colorado River. Instead, they say, significant cutbacks to demand are the only way to meet the challenges posed by climate change’s impact on water supplies.

This story is part of ongoing coverage of the Colorado River, produced by KUNC in Colorado and supported by the Walton Family Foundation. KUNC is solely responsible for its editorial coverage.

TIGERS ON THE ROAD ~ Mark Rawsthorne ~ I held out my camera, pointed to it, and exclaimed, “I think I just got the money shot!” The Avalanche Review


~~~ READ THE ARTICLE:  pp. 1, 17-19 ~~~


As we drove to meet the gun crew I asked Jerry what he thought it would take to start an avalanche cycle to bring things down.

His reply, “Ahhh, probably the last snowflake.”

From an aspiring forecaster’s standpoint, his answer was quite a surprise and one which left me feeling incredibly perplexed. It wasn’t the response I was looking for. I wanted a number. A water equivalent value. I was used to dealing with hard scientific facts and not the last snowflake-style response.

But as I sat in the truck and watched the piled banks of snow pass in a blur, I realized it was the only true answer he could give me. We were both acutely aware that the snowpack couldn’t take much more of a load. Precipitation intensity was elevated, there was significant wind loading, and it had been snowing constantly for 24 hours. If Jerry had said the snowpack would take an additional inch of water or even an additional half an inch, then I would have been able to sit back and relax in the false comfort of scientific reasoning. But the “last snowflake!”

Mountain Renaissance Man, Chuck Kroger ~ Adventure Journal

The Rōbert [Cholo] Report (pron: Rō'bear Re'por)


Historical Badass: Mountain Renaissance Man Chuck Kroger

From pioneering big wall climber to building a via ferrata, there was little in the mountains that didn’t call to him.

Charles Frederick “Chuck” Kroger was a pioneering climber, ultra runner, cyclist, master craftsman, and mountain renaissance man – a jack of all trades and master of many.

Born on December 1, 1946, Kroger grew up in Kalispell, Montana, where his love for the outdoors took hold. While at Stanford University, Kroger became a member of the elite Stanford Alpine Club, serving as its president in 1968-69. Known as the “college boy climbers,” Kroger and his friends spent weekends at Yosemite’s famed Camp 4, often besting the full-time climber residents of the camp when Yosemite was the center of America’s big wall rock climbing world.

He was the first person to climb four routes on El Capitan in a…

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 by jerry roberts, posted in mountain ~ desert ~ ocean ~ news & stories ~photostall tales & stories of the san juans

Tim Lane, CDOT/CAIC Intern of the Year 2004.

There was tension in the voices heard over the crackle of the radio – between forecasters and the highway’s regional CDOT teams. Then, Jerry’s succinct words: “We’re in full conditions here,” the first hint that we might be witnessing a once-in-a-lifetime storm. But of course, at the time, none of us really knew. It was 11:00 pm, January 8, 2005, and it would be an understatement to say it was a stormy night. Forecaster Mark Rikkers was in one truck racing south towards Molas Pass, while lead forecaster Jerry Roberts and his visiting side-kick Tim Lane were headed the opposite direction up Red Mountain, checking on the rapidly deteriorating road conditions and increasing avalanche hazard threatening Highway 550, from the Uncompaghre Gorge above Ouray all the way to Coal Bank Pass – the north/south life-line of southwestern Colorado.

That night, after an already long day of shooting, I was allowed to stay behind and supposedly catch up on much-needed sleep. A night that was sleepless nonetheless, especially since around here we make a habit of snuggling with our Motorolas; no avalanche forecaster worth their Pisco Sours would be sleeping when it’s dumping nearly 4″ per hour on a severely burdened continental snowpack. So there I lay, wide awake, eavesdropping.

Using radio call names, Jerry Roberts is anxiously trying to reach Mark Rikkers: “3 Mary 5-1, this is 3 Mary 5-0; what’s your 20? Mark Rikkers: “Hey Jer, it’s 3 Mary 5-1, I finally made it to Molas Pass – really bad visibility; what’s happening your direction?“ Jerry: “Mark, I’m with a crazy woman stuck in a snowbank near the Muleshoe turn (below a particularly nasty avalanche path) – will need help getting her out so we can shut this highway down. Can’t reach the Red Mountain plow driver – can you try radioing from your location and send him our way?” Mark: “10-4, I’ll give it a try.”

So, trolling for something to do, I ventured an earnest call to Jerry (knowing it was probably a mistake). “Uhh, 3 Mary 5-0, this is 3 Mary 5-2; is there anything I can do from here?” Pause. Jerry, with the whole world listening and a storm puking 4″ an hour, replied, “Thanks 5-2, uhh yea…when we get this lady out we’ll be escorting her back to Silverton for the night, but she might not be able to find a place to stay…doesn’t speak very good English, think she’s Romanian…you think she could camp on your sofa for the night?” I pause, suspicious. “Uhh, yea, sure, I guess so.” Jerry: “Great! And one other thing…I think she’s from the circus … she has a monkey with her.”

Long pause. “Did you say MONKEY?” Jerry: “Ya, I think it’s a MONKEY. Will your dog be okay with that?”

~~~  READ THE STORY: pp. 1, 15-17  ~~

BUDDHIST ROAD PATROL by Peter Shelton, Silverton Mountain Journal, Jan. 18, 2002

The Rōbert [Cholo] Report (pron: Rō'bear Re'por)

Avalanche forecaster Jerry Roberts and I are riding in his orange welfare rig.  We’re on our way to check storm boards for recent snow accumulation totals.  It’s the middle of the night.  Our tires leave tracks several inches deep.  Snowflakes in the air stop, eerily, strobe-like, in each sweep of the yellow flossing light on the roof…..

“3-Mary-14, this is 3-Mary 51.  Come in Doug.”  “Ya, Jerry, this is 14.  I’m over in Ironton Park on my way up.  It’s snowing pretty hard.  Visibility is pretty poor.  See you on the pass.”

“I’ve got a lot of respect for the plow drivers,”  Jerry says working the defroster to keep the wipers from icing up completely.  “Man, that’s a lonely, hateful job.  Ninety percent boredom and 10 percent terror.”


Peter Shelton (far right) enjoying a Rio Blanco breakfast with Tim and rŌbert.

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East Riverside running over the shed.

Gary King photo

West Riverside the same day.

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The Avalanche Review, February & April 2009

It’s anybody’s guess why forecasters do this job. It could be the smell of powder, throwing 50 pound shots from the helicopter, watching hard slab failure release energy over several alpine basins at once, or maybe just the company you keep.

Whatever the reasons, you get hooked on the excitement and the challenges of the job. It requires a lot of field experience (series of non-fatal errors), collection of empirical evidence, listening to your inner voice (intuition), and distilling all of the variables to reduce uncertainties until you can finally make a decision that you can live with. There are many truths to be learned. It’s no big mystery; you pay attention and do your work because you don’t want to be a victim of your own bad planning. It helps to be comfortable in the world of uncertainties.

~~~  READ PART ONE , PP. 24, 25, 32  ~~~

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East Riverside & snowshed..

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Jefe & CDOT foreman, Tim Lane

The Battleship