@ColoradoWaterWise: We are starting up a Brown Bag Luncheon Learn series. Our 1st event is on March 12 in Aurora

Weird Winter Weather Plot Thickens as Arctic Swiftly Warms — Scientfic American

West Drought Monitor February 15, 2015
West Drought Monitor February 15, 2015

Here’a From The Conversation US (Jennifer Francis) via Scientific American:

Severe drought and abnormally warm conditions continue in the west, with the first-ever rain-free January in San Francisco; bitter cold hangs tough over the upper Midwest and Northeast; and New England is being buried by a seemingly endless string of snowy nor’easters.

Yes, droughts, cold and snowstorms have happened before, but the persistence of this pattern over North America is starting to raise eyebrows. Is climate change at work here?

Wavier jet stream
One thing we do know is that the polar jet stream—a fast river of wind up where jets fly that circumnavigates the northern hemisphere—has been doing some odd things in recent years.

Rather than circling in a relatively straight path, the jet stream has meandered more in north-south waves. In the west, it’s been bulging northward, arguably since December 2013—a pattern dubbed the “Ridiculously Resilient Ridge” by meteorologists. In the east, we’ve seen its southern-dipping counterpart, which I call the “Terribly Tenacious Trough.”

ridiculouslyresilientridgeterriblytenacioustroughviascientificamericannoaa

These long-lived shifts from the polar jet stream’s typical pattern have been responsible for some wicked weather this winter, with cold Arctic winds blasting everywhere from the Windy City to the Big Apple for weeks at a time.

We know that climate change is increasing the odds of extreme weather such as heatwaves, droughts and unusually heavy precipitation events, but is it making these sticky jet-stream patterns more likely, too? Maybe.

Slowing, drunken path
The jet stream is a dastardly complex creature, and figuring out what makes it tick has challenged atmospheric scientists since it was discovered about 75 years ago. Even more elusive is figuring out how climate change will affect it.

Jet streams exist because of differences in air temperature. In the case of the polar jet stream, which is responsible for most of the weather we experience around the middle-latitudes of the northern hemisphere, it’s the cold Arctic butting against warmer areas to the south that drives it. (A more in-depth explanation can be found here.) Anything that affects that temperature difference will affect the jet stream.

wavypolarvortexcompactconfigurationviascientificamericannoaa

This is where climate change comes in: the Arctic is warming much faster than elsewhere. That Arctic/mid-latitude temperature difference, consequently, is getting smaller. And the smaller differential in temperatures is causing the west-to-east winds in the jet to weaken.

Strong jets tend to blow straight west to east; weaker jets tend to wander more in a drunken north/south path, increasing the likelihood of wavy patterns like the one we’ve seen almost non-stop since last winter.

When the jet stream’s waves grow larger, they tend to move eastward more slowly, which means the weather they generate also moves more slowly, creating more persistent weather patterns.

@weather5280: Check out all the winter weather alerts across the CONUS this morning

Snowpack news: The Upper #ColoradoRiver snowpack moves back into the average range

Westwide SNOTEL snow water equivalent as a percent of normal via the NRCS
Westwide SNOTEL snow water equivalent as a percent of normal via the NRCS

USGS: Fascinating before/after repeat photography of #Alaska glaciers

Author flies plane with one hand and shoots photos — Steamboat Today #ColoradoRiver

wherethecoloradoriverisborngarrettfisher2015

I’ve worked my way about half-way through the photos in Mr. Fisher’s book Where the Colorado River is Born.

I find it fascinating to try to pick out landmarks that I’ve seen from the ground in the photos.

Here’s a review from Tom Ross writing for Steamboat Today. Click through and read the whole article. Here’s an excerpt:

With his left hand firmly on the control stick of his vintage Piper PA-11 Cub Special aircraft, and a camera in his right hand, Fisher compiled an impressive portfolio of photographs of the Colorado River Basin from on high and bound them up into a new book, “Where the Colorado River is Born.”

“I either shoot out the left window or the right door,” Fisher said Wednesday from his current home on the Outer Banks of North Carolina. “I steer with my left hand and shoot with my right hand.”

Improbably, he uses the stick and rudder to manipulate the aircraft to frame his shot while he’s looking through the viewfinder of the camera.

Fisher picked an opportune time to self-publish a book of aerial photos of the Colorado River and its tributaries. Its release comes as even the average water user on Colorado’s Western Slope is fretting over the implications of a draft of the state’s new water plan due to be finalized in December. The plan is intended to answer the question, “Where will Colorado get the water it needs to support its cities and towns, industry and agriculture in 2050 while conserving the natural environment?”

As Fisher wrote in the foreword, he does not bring a particular environmental or political stance to the book. Rather, he wants people to be able to see the scale of the mountainous landscape that gives rise to the waters that sustain millions of people in seven states.

“My purpose is to educate those who cannot see these places directly so that they may determine for themselves the condition of their water supply and what is to be done about it,” he wrote.

Here’s another review from Jessica Cabe writing for the Glenwood Springs Post Independent. Here’s an excerpt:

Garrett Fisher can remember one defining moment in January 2014 when the idea came for his latest photo book, “Where the Colorado River is Born.”

“We got 28 inches of snow in Breckenridge,” Fisher said. “I had become aware of the water rights, and that particular property I was renting did not have the water rights.”

A Great Lakes native from Buffalo, New York, the concept of water scarcity did not cross Fisher’s mind until moving to Colorado, where until 2009 it was illegal for almost anyone to collect rain water or snow for personal recycling purposes. Two bills were introduced in 2009 that allow for some exceptions, but to this day many Colorado residents would be breaking the law to catch rain water or keep the snow they shovel from their driveways…

“I try to avoid telling people what to do because I think that doesn’t work,” he said. “My goal was to show people exactly where the water came from. I want to show people where the snow falls and where it goes.”

He said once people see something like that, it becomes real and relatable.

Fisher’s book contains 95 photos of the Upper Colorado, Roaring Fork, Blue, Gunnison, Eagle, Yampa and Uncompaghre river basins as well as the mountain ranges that feed them. He took these photos from his Piper PA-11 Cup Special, what he describes as the Model T of airplanes for their nostalgia factor.

“They were the first personal airplanes, or the first planes someone would buy to fly around and have fun,” he said. “It’s good for what I do. It flies slow, and it climbs aggressively. Also, the visibility is good as far as the plane parts being out of the way.”

For all these advantages, he trades comfort. Fisher took the photos that appear in “Where the Colorado River is Born” from March to June of 2014. Flying above mountains, hanging out the door of the plane with his camera, he wouldn’t have minded a heater.

Fisher said his favorite memory of photographing the river was his time flying above the Roaring Fork Valley.

“All of a sudden I got to 8,500 feet over Basalt,” he said. “I had the door open, and I was like, ‘It’s like summertime. I’m not freezing.’ And I didn’t have to worry about crashing into anything. I had forgotten how intense the flying was that I had gotten myself into. It required constant mental agility. But I cruised all over the valley, back and forth a few times, and then landed in Glenwood.”

Fisher said his book has a message, but he also wanted it to simply have aesthetic value as a coffee table book.

“If the photo’s not pretty, it doesn’t make it in,” he said.

But he hopes seeing this whole fascinating process — from snow falling on a mountain to the spring melt that takes the snow to the river — will open eyes about water in the West.

More Colorado River coverage here.

Beautiful photo of a snowy Uncompahgre river — Colorado River Watch #ColoradoRiver