FORTCAST to host inaugural Colorado Weatherfest June 24 — @ColoradoStateU

A weather balloon launch will be among the activities at the inaugural FORTCAST Weatherfest, June 24.

Here’s the release from Colorado State University (Jessica Cox):

Fort Collins Atmospheric Scientists (FORTCAST) will host the inaugural Colorado Weatherfest on Saturday, June 24, 2017, 10 a.m.-2 p.m. All events will take place at the CSU Department of Atmospheric Science, 3915 W. Laporte Avenue, on the CSU Foothills Campus.

Featuring a weather balloon launch and drone demonstration, the event – open to all ages – serves to introduce weather and climate principles through hands-on activities. Dozens of scientists from across Colorado will participate, including representatives from:

  • Colorado State University, Department of Atmospheric Science
  • The Cooperative Institute for Research in the Atmosphere
  • The Little Shop of Physics
  • Denver-Boulder National Weather Service
  • Colorado Climate
  • WeatherNation
  • Ball Aerospace
  • The Center for Severe Weather Research
  • The Earth System Modeling and Education Institute
  • University of Colorado, Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences
  • For any questions, contact Dakota Smith at

    Mill levy for Dry Gulch Reservoir on November ballot

    Credit The Pagosa Daily Post.

    From The Pagosa Sun (Marshall Dunham):

    During its regular meeting on June 12, the San Juan Water Conservancy District (SJWCD) board passed a resolution to go forward with a mill levy initiative that will appear on the ballot in November.

    The resolution passed 4-1, with members Rod Proffitt, John Porco, Doug Secrist and Susan Nossaman voting in favor of the motion, and member Al Pfister voting against.

    Board member Ray Finney was absent from the meeting.

    The mill levy would help fund the proposed Dry Gulch raw water storage project, along with a $2 million dollar loan that is contingent upon the SJWCD successfully raising its mill levy to 1 mill from .316 mills during an upcoming election.

    If the mill levy initiative passes in an upcoming election, the loan would come from the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB).

    The $2 million would be used to pay for pre-construction costs of a reservoir, which include acquiring more land for the project…

    The motion passed 4-1.

    What’s in a name?

    The SJWCD board also discussed changing the name of the Dry Gulch project in the hopes of differentiating the 11,000-acre-foot project from the 35,000-acre-foot project that was the subject of a legal battle.

    The board discussed possible name changes, such as the High Pasture Project, or the San Juan Headwaters Project.

    The board then came up with the idea of each board member rat- ing the possible choices, and then deciding on a name during the next board meeting.

    Aspen leafing out early? — @COindependent #ActOnClimate

    An aspen tree grove along Buck Creek, in Avon, was wearing all of its summer leaves by May 5. Photo Credit: Allen Best

    From the Colorado Independent (Allen Best):

    Aspen stands this year had leafed out by May 5 on the north-facing slopes above Eagle-Vail, the subdivision of duplexes where I spent the 1990s. They were lovely, light and green. And seemed weeks early.

    In my memory, the leaves turned out by Memorial Day, but not much before.

    “You’re definitely on the money in your observation,” said Theresa Crimmins, assistant director of the National Phenology Network, when I called her about my aspen observation.

    The network, founded about a decade ago in Tucson, has been documenting the impact of a generally warming climate on plant and insect life. By its estimates, spring arrived 11 days earlier in the Vail area while some parts of the nation were 30 days ahead of schedule this year.

    Those estimates are based in part on the direct observations over time of thousands of people nationwide. The network has 856 registered observers in Colorado in the program called Nature’s Notebook.

    Phenology is not strictly the province of professional scientists. It can be—and increasingly is—done in an organized way by people looking out their kitchen windows, noticing changes underway literally in their own backyards. People have been observing nature’s calendar—such as when lilacs bloom, hummingbirds return from the tropics, and crickets start getting noisy—for decades.

    It is a discipline that depends not on memory, but upon written records, carefully and conscientiously curated.

    The network also has a website here with maps created by models that draw upon data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, among others. Two maps speak to this year’s unusual warming through April. One, the spring index map, uses a model that tracks the heat accumulated since the start of the year. The map predicts the day of the year that this index, or threshold, “that would cause plant and animals to start doing their thing,” said Crimmins.

    A second map, the spring index anomaly, compares when the date for reaching any given heat threshold, or cumulative degrees-days, as compared to the average from 1981 through 2010. Meteorologists use a rolling 30-year period, updated every decade, to define what is average. Red on this map indicates early spring, and blue shows late spring.

    Donald Trump would delight in how much red there was this year. On May 10, the maps showed red from the Rocky Mountains eastward, some areas as crimson as ripened cherries or dried chili peppers. Only the Pacific Northwest showed strong blue. (Portions of mountainous Colorado are green, a reflection only of insufficient data.)

    “This is a general picture, and yes indeed, spring has been much warmer than usual, and it does seem that many of the plants are responding accordingly,” said Crimmins.

    Does this include aspen? Not necessarily.

    “If we wanted to predict when certain alpine species are changing, we should calibrate a different model with what we know about them,” she said. “A lot of it has to do with snowmelt.”

    Heavy snow in Colorado this winter during December and January was followed by exceptional warmth. Temperatures in Eastern Colorado from February through April were five degrees above the 20th century average, a record. It was the second warmest three-month period in Western Colorado in records beginning in 1895. It lagged only 1934, a year of drought—and elsewhere, the Dust Bowl.

    Some nights in March temperatures never fell below freezing even above 10,000 feet in elevation, says Jeff Lukas, the research integration specialist for the Western Water Assessment at the University of Colorado-Boulder. “That’s pretty unusual,” he said.

    If there is always natural variability—a hot and dry 2012 followed by a coolish, wettish 2013—does this year’s weather also portend the future?

    “This year is the future norm,” said Lukas.

    And how much of this warming spring weather is due to atmospheric pollution, the greenhouse gases produced by modern civilization? “Some fraction,” Lukas says. That has been the overall trend over the last 30 years, he adds.

    Might the Aspen Center for Environmental Studies have my answers about aspens? Jim Kravitz, the director of naturalist programs, has been tracking the aspen during the last six years. He has posted the photos of the aspen clones changing into their green garb of spring and summer and posted the comparison photos on the center’s Facebook page. The comparisons have gotten thousands and thousands of views, he reports.

    This year, he reports, the aspen started leafing out four weeks earlier than compared to the last six years before May’s snow and cold put spring on pause.

    Kravitz and other naturalists emphasize the value of direct observation in understanding the changing climate. “I know six years of 10 years, or even 10 years, doesn’t constitute science, but we can see things that are being projected (by climate models),” he said.

    In Colorado’s alpine areas, that shift has already been documented by the Denver Botanic Gardens. Rebecca Hufft, the associate director of applied conservation, recently completed a three-year project that tapped thousands of those observations from 30-plus museums.

    Filtering out observations of less than 10 years, Hufft came up with 385 species with records of seasonal changes since 1950 for alpine areas, defined here as 10,400 feet or above. That’s just a little lower than Echo Lake, near Mt. Evans. On average, these species shifted toward earlier blooming and other spring activities by an average eight days during the last 60 years.

    Species did not march to an earlier climate drummer in unison, however. The study found that 45 species—including rosy pussytoes, the thickleaf ragworth, and the giant red Indian paintbush—are coming out an average of 32 days earlier.

    But 340 others species—including Englemann spruce, kinnikinnick, and Colorado blue columbine— didn’t change from 1950 to 2011, the study period. No species showed a trend toward later blooming in spring.
    Hufft, a plant ecologist, plans similar studies of four other ecosystem types in Colorado, such as the piñon-and-juniper and the short-grass steppes. The latter cover nearly all the eastern half of the state.

    As for aspen gaining leaves, Hufft’s study did not include the species, likely because there are relatively few aspen above 10,400 feet. That doesn’t mean my memory was wrong. But neither am I sure that I’m right.

    What we do have is clear evidence of warming. But if climate change is a polarizing phrase, Hufft sees plant phenology as a valuable but relatively simple tool for talking about the same thing.

    “It takes the discussion away from the controversy,” she says. The evidence is there, outside local windows.

    “I think when people can see that it changes, it makes a better connection to their own lives. It’s no longer abstraction, like something happening at the equator or the sea level rising. It’s concrete. There are actually things changing in their own backyards.”

    As for those aspen changing in Eagle-Vail—I’d bet a beer that I’m right. But not the house.

    Aspinall Unit operations update: 1150 CFS in Black Canyon

    Fog-filled Black Canyon via the National Park Service

    From email from Reclamation (Erik Knight):

    The spring peak operation has officially concluded. Due to an issue with the power plant at Crystal Dam, the ramp down was forced to end prematurely. As of today releases are being made through the bypass gates at a rate of 2150 cfs. This has put flows in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon around 1150 cfs. This release rate is expected to continue for the foreseeable future. Further adjustments to this release rate may be necessary to manage the remaining runoff coming into Blue Mesa Reservoir.

    #ColoradoRiver: Lower Basin #drought contingency plan update

    The Colorado River is about 1,400 miles long and flows through seven U.S. states and into Mexico. The Upper Colorado River Basin supplies approximately 90 percent of the water for the entire basin. It originates as rain and snow in the Rocky and Wasatch mountains. Credit USGS.

    From The Arizona Republic (Joanna Allhands):

    Arizona has issues to work through — and a lesson to learn — before it approves a drought contingency plan for Lake Mead…

    For decades, the way to decide who gets how much water from the Colorado River involved big, protracted fights in Congress and the courts.

    Now, the Lower Basin states of Arizona, California and Nevada are voluntarily working on a drought contingency plan to cut the water each state gets from Lake Mead once a shortage is declared.

    California would agree for the first time to take cuts, which is definitely better than the current agreement that forces Arizona to take the bulk of the cuts while California escapes with none. Arizona and Nevada also would agree to take more cuts, propping up Lake Mead levels in hopes of avoiding more drastic cuts later on.

    Is it a war? A spat? A debate?

    The basic framework is finished, and major players say they support the deal. Which is good news, because even if we’re expected to narrowly escape the first ever shortage declaration in 2018, things aren’t looking so good for 2019.

    We don’t have a ton of time to spare to get a plan in place before cuts come home to roost.

    But it’s still anyone’s guess when the agreement will be signed, because there are big tensions brewing over how those cuts will play out.

    Ironically, even that tension has become a point of contention. There’s broad disagreement in Arizona over whether this is a battle, or even whether there are “sides” to this debate. The severity of the fighting depends on whom you ask.

    But clearly there are strong differences of opinion over how the cuts should play out in this state, and our ability to resolve them could have wide-ranging consequences for the future.

    The issue: How do we make it fair(er)?

    Here’s the hangup:

    Underground water banking and Pinal County farmers are first in line for cuts. Without the drought contingency plan – let’s call it DCP – there would be no excess water available for underground water banking, and farmers would lose roughly half of their allotment once Lake Mead falls to the shortage trigger level of 1,075 feet of elevation.

    But water banks and Pinal County farmers would lose all of their allotment if DCP is approved. Arizona is working on a separate plan – called DCP-Plus – to spread some the cuts across higher-priority users, including tribes and cities, so the lower-priority users aren’t decimated.

    That planning process ha revealed a major sticking point between the Arizona Department of Water Resources and Central Arizona Project over water levels in Lake Mead. The hydrology is complicated, and I don’t want to make your head spin.

    The debate over flexibility — and cash

    But in a nutshell, CAP contends that DCP-Plus could leave on the table more than 700,000 acre feet of water per year that the Lower Basin otherwise would have the rights to receive.

    Instead of agreeing to conserve the same amount of water per year – which ADWR says is more prudent because lake levels can be so volatile – CAP wants the amount to be flexible to maximize the amount of water Lake Mead receives from neighboring Lake Powell.

    ADWR has since scrapped an earlier version of DCP-Plus, and hydrologists from both agencies have begun meeting to revise their models. But, obviously, it’s going to take some time to get a finished plan for policymakers – who likely will slice and dice it even more.

    There are other sticking points, most notably the lack of money to pay farmers for fallowing their land and not using the water they otherwise would be allotted. The state is doing its best to rustle up cash, but it doesn’t have anywhere near what it’s going to take fairly compensate everyone whose livelihood depends on the water.

    Some also argue – rightly – that it’s a poor use of public cash to keep paying people year after year not to use their water. This is a Band-Aid solution, at best.

    What we’re not discussing (but should)

    The good news, if you want to call it that, is California is experiencing similar internal hangups over how it would shoulder DCP’s cuts. It’s not as if Arizona’s issues are holding everyone else up.

    And despite the differences of opinion, it’s clear that everyone involved understands the need to work together, not let this stuff play out in Congress or the courts.

    They also are keenly aware of the need to conserve water, because shortages are coming on Lake Mead. Even if we have a string of wet winters, it doesn’t change the fact that we’ve allocated more water to states than the river can produce.

    They call it a structural deficit, and it’s not about to go away.

    Maybe that’s the greatest lesson we should take from this process. As important as both agreements are for the state’s future, neither actually fixes the structural deficit.

    That will require big-ticket projects to permanently reduce or augment our water supply, such as fixing leaky canals and expanding desalination plants.

    And that means sooner or later, we’re all going to have to pony up.