Forecast news: Colder stormtrack out of the Pacific Northwest by the middle of December #CODrought #COwx


From (Joel Gratz):

The good news is that a new storm will take shape and it’ll bring colder air to much of the country, including Colorado. Storms in this new weather pattern will originate further north, which means colder and fluffier snow. And while this next week will generally favor snow only for Colorado, the longer-range forecasts are hinting that a flatter storm track could evolve into the third week of December which would mean storms for both California and Colorado.

But first thing’s first – let’s talk about this weekend’s storm. While a few light snow showers could fall over the Colorado resorts on Thursday, Thursday night, Friday, and Friday night, the main event won’t arrive until late Saturday afternoon. A cold front will move in from the northwest and usher in heavy snow and colder temperatures on Saturday night. If things come together just right, about 4-8 inches should fall at most of the Colorado resorts Saturday night and it’ll feel a lot more like a (chilly) winter day on Sunday.

From The Denver Post:

The Arctic blast is expected to spin out of the Gulf of Alaska on Friday, travel down the northern Rockies and spill into Colorado on Saturday, according to the National Weather Service. After that, details are still sketchy, however.

“Forecast confidence is beginning to increase in the bigger picture, yet uncertainty continues with many important details such as the storm’s eventual strength and track,” the National Weather Service stated Thursday afternoon…

Unusually warm weather, like that Denver has enjoyed for two weeks, is out of the forecast.

Drought/snowpack news: ‘The positive side of it is that in most of our heavier winters, we start out dry’ — Billy Barr #CODrought



From The Crested Butte News (Alissa Johnson):

Out at Gothic, Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory business manager [Billy Barr] just recorded the driest fall in 39 years. That means that out of 39 years of data, September through November ranked #39 out of 39 for snowpack and snowfall. “The positive side of it is that in most of our heavier winters, we start out dry because the weather patterns miss us the first couple months of winter and then we get it starting to come through here, and in January, February and March we get hammered,” [Barr] said…

It’s not a sure thing—last year the weather pattern never changed, and as barr pointed out, no winter has ever started like this one—but it’s a pattern locals are banking on. The streets are filled with rumors that we never get two dry winters in a row, and the last big winter during 2007-2008 was dry until December 7. Then, the skies opened up…

For skiers hoping to give Mother Nature a boost, [local historian Duane Vandenbusche] went back to the history books for some tried and true methods. “In the early days of the Crested Butte ski area and the early days of Vail they brought a group of Ute Indians in from the Four Corners to do a snow dance,” he said.

In 1963 in Vail, for example, Many Cloud of the Cloud Clan led dancers to call upon the spirits of the land. And in spite of the smirks of skeptics, the history books report that the “Next day, says a believer, it snowed like hell.”[…]

We’ve also read that sleeping with a silver spoon under your pillow can help, and here at The News, we like Murphy’s Law. If you put your bike back into storage in October, haul it out for one more ride. If you’ve been riding it every day, put it away for goodness sake.

As KBUT program director Chad Reich says, “I think that when people don’t put away their mountain bikes, it angers the snow gods.”

From the Summit Daily News (Paige Blankenbuehler):

A river that started the day with a modest flow dwindled by the afternoon to a thin sheet of ice covering the dry ground below. Dead fish lay frozen on the riverbed nearby.

John Pallaoro, a Breckenridge resident who owns a business on the Blue River, observed water levels drop significantly Tuesday.

“As I watched the river today, it went from flowing to absolutely nothing and I noticed the smell of dead fish,” Pallaoro said Tuesday. “I’ve observed several dead fish throughout the day.”

Pallaoro said the levels of the river this year compared to previous years is “black and white.”

“Something is up, something non-natural is going on,” he said. “I look up at the mountain and see them blowing all of this snow for the halfpipe and Dew Tour and I don’t know if that’s the answer or not, but it’s hard not to make a connection.”

Breckenridge Ski Resort officials say the low levels are not connected with ongoing snowmaking efforts.

“We are constantly monitoring streamflows at the Maggie Pond dam and the Highway 9 bridge gauge to make sure we are not impacting minimum streamflows in the Blue River,” said Kristen Petitt-Stewart, spokeswoman for the resort. “We have been well within our flow parameters and 100 percent compliant so far this snowmaking season and minimum streamflows are being met.”

As part of this monitoring and management of the water rights, the ski resort has legal right to call for water to be released into the Blue River from the Goose Pasture Tarn above the snowmaking intake…

The town of Breckenridge and Breckenridge Ski Resort, the two entities that divert water from the tarn and Maggie Pond that flow into the Blue River as it extends through town, are within their legal right to use the water, said Troy Wineland, water commissioner for District 36 of the Blue River Basin…

The low level of the Blue River, particularly at a section directly behind Main Street businesses near French Street that nearly dried up Tuesday, can be blamed on the dry conditions and low snowpack levels…

The minimum bypass flows at the diversion point for Breckenridge Ski Resort’s snowmaking is 2 cubic feet per second. Downstream on the Blue River near Tiger Road, the minimum streamflow requirement is 10 CFS.

“The minimum bypass flows are being met, but the streamflows are so deficient the river is not flowing above the surface of the stream bed — I need to stress that the water is there, you just can’t see it because it’s sub-surface in some sections,” Wineland said.

From The Aspen Times:

The Aspen Water Department recorded just 6 inches of snowfall last month, according to its monthly report, released Wednesday. The average for November is nearly 22 inches. Virtually all of last month’s snow fell during one weekend, Nov. 10 and 11, followed by a half-inch Nov. 12. Total precipitation, measured as water, was well below average and nearly matched the record low for the month. The water plant, at 8,161 feet in elevation, measured 0.44 inches of moisture in November, compared with an average of 2.02 inches, the report noted. The record low for precipitation in November — 0.42 inches — occurred in 1999. That year, the water department recorded 7.1 inches of snowfall for the month.

From The Greeley Tribune (Eric Brown):

October’s rain and snow might have been enough to bring 2012 out from the bottom of Greeley’s precipitation records, but November’s limited moisture put it right back down there.

Unseasonably warm temperatures last month also leaves Greeley still enduring its hottest year on record.

The 0.3 inches of precipitation Greeley received last month was 30 percent less than average for November, according to figures provided by the Colorado Climate Center in Fort Collins. And, at the end of last month, Greeley’s precipitation total for 2012 stood at 7.99 inches — well short of the 14.13 inches the city normally receives by the end of November.

Back in October, there had been a glimmer of hope for Greeley, as the city received above­normal precipitation — enough to make 2012 the second­driest year on record up to that point, instead of the driest, as it had been for most of the year.

Then the dry spell returned in November.

But as dry as it has been locally, the Greeley area is actually faring better than the rest of the state.

According to the most recent U.S. Drought Monitor from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which was released last week, Greeley, western Weld County and some surrounding areas are experiencing “moderate” drought, while the rest of the state is enduring “severe,” “extreme” or “exceptional” drought.

Conditions are the worst in southeast Colorado.

The dry conditions across Colorado have created headaches for farmers and ranchers.
According to last week’s Colorado Crop Progress report from the USDA, 85 percent of the topsoil in the state was “short” or “very short” on moisture, while 93 percent of the state’s subsoil was short or very short on moisture.

Moisture in both is critical for the growth of crops, and farmers say conditions must improve before spring planting rolls around.

Many Weld County winter wheat farmers, who planted in September and October, say that crop is in good condition locally thanks to the rains that fell on the area around planting time.

But that hasn’t been the case for wheat growers elsewhere in Colorado. According to the Colorado Crop Progress report, 34 percent of the state’s crop is in poor or very poor condition.

Additionally, about 85 percent of pastures and rangelands in the state are in poor or very poor condition.

Particularly of concern to many right now is how dry it is in the mountains.

Greeley, like many other cities in Colorado, is one that depends heavily on snowmelt from the mountains to meet its water needs. Weld County’s farmers and ranchers, too, depend on winter and spring snows to provide runoff that fills irrigations ditches during the growing season.

But, according to numbers provided by the Natural Resources Conservation Service, snowpack in the South Platte River basin on Wednesday was at 39 percent of its historic average for Dec. 5.

That’s a decrease from where it was the previous week. On Nov. 29, snowpack in the South Platte basin was at 53 percent of average for that date.

Of the eight major river basins in Colorado, only the Arkansas River basin, with its levels at 28 percent of average, and the Rio Grande basin, at 38 percent, had lower snowpack marks on Wednesday.

Like the South Platte basin snowpack, the Colorado River basin — where the Front Range also gets some of its water supplies — stood at 39 percent of average on Wednesday.

The average high temperature last month in Greeley was 54.8 degrees, with the average temperature overall for the month at 41.8 degrees — the latter of which placed last month as the eighth­warmest November on record for Greeley.

Through the end of November, the average temperature in the city was 57.4 degrees for the year, 2.8 degrees above normal, and standing as the highest mark on record for Greeley.

Weekly Climate, Water and Drought Assessment of the Upper Colorado River Basin #CODrought


Click on the thumbnail graphic for the November precipitation summary from the Colorado Climate Center. Click here for all the summaries from the Colorado Climate Center.

ENSO-neutral is favored for Northern Hemisphere winter 2012-13 and into spring 2013


From the Climate Prediction Center:

During November 2012, the Pacific Ocean reflected ENSO-neutral conditions. Equatorial sea surface temperatures (SST) anomalies were slightly positive across all of the tropical Pacific Ocean except for the far eastern portion, as also indicated in the Niño indices. The oceanic heat content (average temperature in the upper 300m of the ocean) was also slightly above average, with largest amplitude in the east-central part of the basin. Despite the subsurface and surface Pacific Ocean being slightly warmer than average, the tropical atmosphere remained in an ENSO-neutral state. Upper-level and lower-level zonal winds were near average, and convection was slightly suppressed over the eastern and central tropical Pacific. Thus, both the atmosphere and ocean indicated ENSO-neutral conditions.

Relative to last month, the SST model predictions increasingly favor ENSO-neutral, with many remaining just slightly above average in the Niño-3.4 region through the Northern Hemisphere winter 2012-13 and into spring 2013. While the tropical atmosphere and especially the ocean suggested borderline ENSO-neutral/ weak El Niño conditions at times from July to September, these signs have now largely dissipated. Therefore, it is considered unlikely that a fully coupled El Niño will develop during the next several months. ENSO-neutral is now favored through the Northern Hemisphere winter 2012-13 and into spring 2013 (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 10 January 2013.

The $631 billion Defense Authorization Act includes Senator Udall’s amendment for funding for a legacy uranium mine report


Here’s the release from Senator Udall’s office:

What do GPS, flat-screen televisions and the Internet have in common? Before each became commonly available consumer goods, they were developed by the military. Alternative fuels are on the cusp of similar cutting-edge development.

Last week, the U.S. Senate voted 62-37 in favor of my amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act of 2013, authorizing the Defense Department to continue its efforts to develop and use alternative fuels. I worked across the aisle to secure this bipartisan victory. Passage of this amendment, when signed into law, will ensure that our military has the resources it needs to develop and use advanced alternative fuels that bring down costs, improve mission capabilities and reduce the strategic vulnerabilities associated with a reliance on foreign fossil fuels.

The Defense Department’s commitment to energy innovation is smart and strategic, especially when we consider how a heavy reliance on foreign oil increases the annual Pentagon budget. Our military consumes more than 300,000 barrels every day, so price spikes have an enormous effect on the DOD budget and mission. When the price of oil increases by a dollar per barrel, the Pentagon’s annual fuel budget skyrockets by more than $130 million.

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta highlighted the critical link between clean energy innovation and energy security in a recent speech: “As one of the largest landowners and energy consumers in the world, our drive is to be more efficient and environmentally sustainable. We have to be able to have the potential to transform the nation’s approach to the challenges we are facing in the environment and energy security.”

I could not agree more.

Over the past decade, all branches of the military have expanded their investments in energy innovation. They have made significant efforts to reduce energy consumption and increase the use of efficient energy technologies. The DOD has also worked to develop alternative energy sources such as biofuels, portable solar panels and advanced batteries. Simply put, the military is leading the way toward reducing our reliance on foreign oil – and if past success is any indicator, we can reach that goal. But we can’t turn back before reaching the summit.

In Colorado, we understand the importance of a balanced energy approach. Our national security, economy and environment are all significantly affected by our energy policies, which is why I support a comprehensive approach.

As we consider the National Defense Authorization Act and look forward to 2013, I plan to continue to advocate for a smart and strategic energy policy that keeps all options on the table and makes our nation stronger and safer. As a member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee and the Senate Armed Services Committee, I am uniquely positioned to ensure that common sense – and Western pragmatism – remain a part of our defense and energy policies.

More coverage from Dick Kamp writing for the Montrose Daily Press:

The $631 billion Defense Authorization Act that passed the U.S. Senate unanimously on Tuesday included an amendment by Colorado’s Mark Udall requiring the secretary of energy to prepare a report that details the extent to which “legacy” uranium mines impact the environment and health.

Legacy uranium mines are defined as those that provided ore for the U.S. weapons program.

The report will describe and analyze the location of legacy mines on federal, state, tribal and private land; detail when mines may pose “a potential and significant radiation health hazard to the public” or other threat, and describe when “they may have caused or may cause degradation of water quality … (or) environmental degradation.” It will prioritize and provide cost estimates for cleanup and reclamation of legacy mines.

More nuclear coverage here and here.

‘Conservation is good for you (the Front Range), but maybe not for us [West Slope]’ — typical Western Slope sentiment?


From the Grand Junction Free Press (Hannah Holm):

Taking water from agriculture through buying water rights and drying up farmland (“buy and dry”) has already economically devastated some eastern plains communities. Most stakeholders agree that further losses of irrigated agriculture should be minimized. Meanwhile, the approximately 500,000 acre fee per year already diverted across the divide from Upper Colorado Basin streams has left many streams in ecological trouble, and the surrounding communities are not happy about the prospect of more depletions. Farther downstream, concerns center around water quality and what could happen if we fail to allow sufficient water to flow to downstream states, as required by the Colorado River Basin Compact.

Conservation is the only approach no one has a problem with — until they are on the hook for actually doing enough of it to make a real difference.

On Monday, Dec. 3, representatives from several basin roundtables met in Silverthorne to hash out how to move forward on the conservation piece, which has long been a point of contention between Front Range and Western Slope interests.

As one Gunnison Basin representative put it, typical Western Slope sentiment has been: “Conservation is good for you (the Front Range), but maybe not for us.” This isn’t as cheap as it sounds, since there are legitimate issues related to the large cost relative to small benefit when you try to get small water providers to implement the kinds of conservation programs big, urban water providers do.

However, Front Range water providers pointed out that they’ve already poured millions of dollars into conservation strategies, which have in fact saved a lot of water, but they simply can’t achieve enough conservation through their own efforts alone to take significant pressure off of agriculture and Western Slope water as sources for additional future supplies.

After much inconclusive discussion about exactly how ambitious and wide-ranging conservation targets should be and insightful comments about the counter-incentives to conservation in current water law, one strong point of consensus emerged: Everyone, on both sides of the divide, needs to do more to conserve water.

And we’ll likely need some statewide legislation to conserve enough (even though it’s still not quite clear what that is). Whether that’s legislation to require low-flow appliances or something related to land-use that would limit how much water new development would use was not decided, but the consensus was nonetheless significant. The desire to keep water on the Western Slope and on farms was, at least among this group, beginning to win out over the desire to oppose any statewide encroachment on local control. That’s a big step. Stay tuned to see how big it will really be.

More conservation coverage here.