Here’s a primer on the NRCS’s SNOTEL network from Mage Hultstrand writing for the Valley Courier’s Colorado Water 2012 series. Here’s an excerpt:
The Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) installs, operates, and maintains an extensive, automated system to collect snowpack and related climatic data in the Western United States called SNOTEL (for SNOwpack TELemetry.)
The system evolved from NRCS’s Congressional mandate in the mid-1930’s “to measure snowpack in the mountains of the West and forecast the water supply.” The programs began with manual measurements of snow courses; since 1980, SNOTEL has reliably and efficiently collected the data needed to produce water supply forecasts and support resource management activities.
Climate studies, air and water quality investigations, and resource management concerns are all served by the modern SNOTEL network. It may also be the best way to track changing climate over time. The high-elevation locations and broad network of the sites provide data analysis opportunities to researchers, water managers, and emergency managers for natural disasters such as floods.
SNOTEL uses meteor burst communications technology to collect and communicate data in near-real-time. Radio signals are reflected at a steep angle off the ever present band of ionized meteorites existing from about 50 to 75 miles above the earth. Satellites are not involved as the NRCS operates and controls the entire communication system.
Two major organizations released climate change reports this month warning of doom and gloom if we stick to our current course and fail to take more aggressive measures. A World Bank report imagines a world 4 degrees warmer, the temperature predicted by century’s end barring changes, and says it aims to shock people into action by sharing devastating scenarios of flood, famine, drought and cyclones. Meanwhile, a report from the US National Research Council, commissioned by the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and other intelligence agencies, says the consequences of climate change–rising sea levels, severe flooding, droughts, fires, and insect infestations–pose threats greater than those from terrorism ranging from massive food shortages to a rise in armed conflicts.
More coverage from the Summit County Citizens Voice (Bob Berwyn):
“A 4-degree warmer world can, and must be, avoided. We need to hold warming below 2 degrees,” said World Bank President Jim Yong Kim. “Lack of action on climate change threatens to make the world our children inherit a completely different world than we are living in today. Climate change is one of the biggest single challenges facing development, and we need to assume the moral responsibility to take action on behalf of future generations, especially the poorest.”
From the Associated Press (John Helprin) via The Denver Post:
The main global warming pollutant reached a record high level in the air in 2011, the U.N. weather agency said Tuesday. Concentrations of heat-trapping carbon dioxide in the atmosphere averaged 390 parts per million during the year. That is up 40 percent from before the Industrial Age, when levels were about 280 parts per million, the World Meteorological Organization said.
From FromThe Summit County Citizens Voice (Bob Berwyn):
In a concerning sign for water managers, Colorado’s snowpack is shrinking at a time of year when it usually grows steadily. Through late November, the statewide snowpack is tracking well below the historic average and just barely above the all-time minimum. Late fall and early winter snow tends to freeze into a solid base layer that melts slowly in the spring to sustain spring runoff. Below-average snowpack this time of year could foreshadow a second subsequent below-average runoff season, with little relief for the state’s depleted rivers and reservoirs…
The SNOTEL site at Vail Mountain, (10,300 feet) for example, has dwindled to just 1 inch of snow on the ground, with Copper Mountain (10,500) at 3 inches, and Grizzly Peak, (11,100 feet) near Arapahoe Basin, at just 5 inches…
For now, the overall outlook from the National Weather Service remains dry for the next seven days, but the models are hinting that the pattern could start to change in early December, with short wave bits of energy starting to break down the western high pressure ridge, potentially cracking open the storm door.