Bad ass picture of the lightning over the Grand Canyon via @SciencePorn

September flooding changed the Cache la Poudre and Big Thompson River channels #COflood

Ash and silt pollute the Cache la Poudre River after the High Park Fire September 2012

Here’s an in-depth look at the Cache la Poudre and Big Thompson Rivers in the aftermath of the September floods, from Ryan Maye Handy writing for the Fort Collins Coloradoan. Click through and read the whole article: Here’s an excerpt:

Record water levels churned the river’s bottom, washing a year’s worth of ash from its banks and stream bed. Residents of Fort Collins and Poudre Canyon say the iconic river looks “magnificent,” a stark contrast to the black sludge that choked it after the 2012 High Park Fire…

The flood also changed the Big Thompson’s course through Loveland, swallowing golf courses, bike paths and front yards. In many places, the river chose its natural path, from which it was diverted a century ago. This presents a struggle for city officials: Do they change the river, again, or let it run its chosen course?

Letting rivers be rivers is best, whether they are the pristine Poudre or the fetid Big Thompson, said professor Ellen Wohl, a geomorphologist at Colorado State University. While the September floods were devastating for cities along the Front Range, their high waters can reset a river’s cycle, encouraging everything from new trout habitat to new cottonwood saplings.

“There is no question that they are really good for rivers,” Wohl said of catastrophic floods.

Although Whol said there’s value in letting the rivers pick their own courses, Colorado residents are too dependent on the rivers’ dammed and diverted waters. In some places, both rivers will be rerouted to spare costly sewage and utilities systems that their new courses threaten…

Poudre Canyon resident Bill Sears has marveled at the river’s transformation since the floods. After 28 years of watching the river, he had never seen anything like the black water that coursed in it after the High Park Fire.

“It was like a slug,” he said of the river’s movement through the canyon. “It was more like asphalt — fresh black stuff. It coated everything.”

But after several days of September rains, the churning water — so powerful that it gnawed away roads and consumed bridges — scrubbed the river cleaner than it had ever been in Sears’ memory.

“In the long run, the flood is probably a pretty good thing,” said John Stokes with the Fort Collins Natural Resources Department. “It tends to turn the riverbed over, which cleans the river up. The bottom of the river is quite stable. It takes a big flood to turn rocks around.”[…]

On Sept. 11, the Big Thompson was not an idyllic trickle winding groggily through the hill country west of Loveland. Normally, the Big Thompson runs at 15 cubic feet per second (cfs) — like watching 15 basketballs float by every second. During the flood it pushed 19,000 cfs of water down the Big Thompson Canyon, more than the Poudre at its highest peak.

The river ruptured 6 miles of sewage lines in Estes Park, leaving about 2,000 residents without sewer service, Gunderson said. Since September, when Gunderson last sampled the river water, human waste has been dumped into the river, giving it high levels of E. coli.

Carlson’s Big Thompson “trickle” erupted in Loveland during the flood, flowing over 11 bridges and covering some of the city’s most important sewer pipes.

The river also dramatically changed its course.

Loveland Water Utilities Manager Chris Matkins had spent many years working along the Big Thompson and said he knew it as well as anyone could know a landscape. But when he saw the swollen river crash through Home Supply Dam, near the water treatment plant on County Road 29, he recognized nothing…

“It’s really unbelievable. I couldn’t get my bearing where I was,” he said. “I was standing in these river corridors, and it was like standing on the moon.”

The quiet creeklike trickle became a Poudre-sized river. It tore away rock cliffs and cracked portions of the nearby highway into splinters. Carlson remembered listening to the surging water and hearing a grinding, the sound of boulders rolling on the river bottom.

Worst of all, Loveland’s three main sewer lines were now stuck beneath the river’s new course — one had survived intact, two others were destroyed. The river had to be moved.

“You can’t just move a river,” Carlson said. “You have to train the river to move.”

The old channel had been all but obliterated, filled with “so much sediment you couldn’t even tell there was an old channel,” Carlson said. Using 18-inch pink limestone boulders — called “riprap” — city officials coaxed the river back to its former channel, nearly 300 feet away.

It was a colossal effort that cost $700,000. And it’s not something the city will do for the numerous other spots where the river left its old course. All told, Matkins thinks it will cost Loveland about $2.5 million to repair all the damages to its water treatment facilities.

Sea level rise, warming upper ocean temperatures, Arctic sea ice melt contributed to the damage from Sandy

Hurricane Sandy via NOAA
Here’s a report from NOAA. Here’s the preface:

On October 22-29, 2012, Hurricane/Post-Tropical Cyclone Sandy moved from the Caribbean to the U.S. Eastern Seaboard, ultimately making landfall near Brigantine, NJ, around 7:30 p.m. on October 29. The storm resulted in an enormous impact to life and property in both the Caribbean and continental United States. The National Hurricane Center’s Tropical Cyclone Report estimated the death count from Hurricane Sandy at 147 direct deaths. Sandy damaged or destroyed at least 650,000 houses and left approximately 8.5 million customers without power during the storm and its aftermath. The effects of Sandy extended as far west as Wisconsin. This late season storm also generated blizzard conditions in western North Carolina and West Virginia, resulting in snowfall totals as high as 3 feet.

Storm surge created some of the most devastating impacts, including flooding in New York City’s subway tunnels, water overtopping runways at La Guardia (Figure 1) and Kennedy airports, and damage to the New Jersey Transit System estimated at approximately $400 million.

In light of the Sandy’s significance, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) formed a Service Assessment Team to document and evaluate the agency’s performance and effectiveness. The Team focused on three key points: first, the National Weather Service’s forecast, watch, and warning products, including its underlying philosophies and policies and its dissemination/communication tools. Second, the Team reviewed the NWS web presence as a tool for communicating with the public. Finally, the Team looked at NWS’s production and issuance of storm-surge related products.

NOAA will use the findings and recommendations in this assessment to increase awareness of critical needs during future extreme weather events and improve products and services to further protect life and property. Given the relationship of this assessment to the agency’s broader portfolio, NOAA will also improve integration and collaboration across mission lines to ensure ongoing responsiveness to partner needs in light of Sandy’s impacts.

Thanks to (Danielle Elliot) for the heads up:

Dr. Radley Horton, a climate scientist at Columbia University and NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, says three environmental factors — sea level rise, warming upper ocean temperatures, and arctic sea ice melt — contributed to the level of damage .

“Sea levels were higher when Sandy hit then they were say 100 years ago,” Horton explained to “As a result of that, the damage, the water piling up, was higher than it would’ve been before we had that sea level rise.”

In understanding why sea levels are rising, Horton says we need look no further than greenhouse gas emissions.

“We’ve got about 40 percent more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere now than we did at the start of the Industrial Revolution. That’s almost entirely due to human activities, the burning of fossil fuels, land use changes, cutting of forests,” he said.

“As a result, we’ve got more of these heat-trapping gases in the atmosphere. Some of that heat warms the atmosphere, some of it goes down into the ocean, and a warming liquid expands. Additionally, some of that ice that was trapped on land before is starting to melt, making its way into the water where it can cause sea level rise.”

Climate models predict that sea level will rise an additional two to three feet in the New York area over the next century. “That alone could lead to three times as frequent coastal flooding events for New York even if storms like Sandy don’t change at all,” Horton said.

Warmer upper ocean temperatures, which have also come as a result of greenhouse gas emissions, are providing more fuel for the hurricanes. So, while the region might see the same types of storms, they may be more frequent and more powerful than before.

Rising temperatures in the Arctic are also playing a role, according to a preliminary study that Horton is currently completing.

“The idea is that as we lose sea ice in the Arctic, the Arctic warms dramatically… We now have a lower temperature gradient between the warm tropics and those now-warmer polar regions,” he explained. “That changes the jet streams, which changes the steering patterns that affect storms like Sandy.”

If the jet stream continues to weaken, storms will be more likely to follow a track similar to Sandy’s, because the jet stream won’t be strong enough to push them east over the Atlantic as it has in the past.