Last month was the world’s third-hottest July on record, new data show — the latest milestone in a global warming trend that has seen the three hottest Julys within the last five years.
With the heat has come a high level of ice melt in the Arctic, where the extent of sea ice last month hit the lowest level for July since the polar satellite record-keeping began four decades ago, according to the European Union’s Copernicus Climate Change Service…
Atmospheric temperature records dating back to the mid-19th century reveal the last five years to be the hottest yet. In terms of records for the month of July, only 2019 and 2016 were warmer than last month. (Graphic: tmsnrt.rs/3ifC6gx)
Last month, the U.S. states of New Mexico and Texas posted record highs. The Middle East also saw record heat, with Bahrain recording its hottest July since 1902.
Even above the waters of the northeastern Pacific Ocean, sea surface temperatures reached nearly 5 degrees Celsius above the 40-year average in some places, the data show.
In the Arctic, which has been warming at more than twice the global rate in recent decades, the expanse of sea ice shrank to its lowest level recorded for any July since 1979. The data service said satellite images reveal ice-free conditions “almost everywhere” along the Siberian coastline – a shipping route that, until a few years ago, could be crossed only with an ice-breaking vessel.
Two weeks ago, nearly all of Colorado was in a drought. This week, it’s even worse. Just over 85 percent of the state is experiencing moderate to extreme drought, and the remaining 15 percent is abnormally dry, often a precursor to drought…
But, according to the most recent map from the U.S. Drought Monitor, 26 percent of Colorado — mostly in the southern half of the state — is in an extreme drought, level D3, which is when large fires develop, insect infestations occur and water restrictions have to be implemented.
Colorado had its eighth driest stretch from January to July of this year with only 8 inches of precipitation, that’s 3.17 inches below average, according to the National Centers for Environmental Information…
Colorado isn’t alone in experiencing a dry first half of 2020, much of the West and parts of the Deep South, central Plains and the Southeast recorded below-average precipitation. Arizona ranked sixth driest while Nevada ranked 11th driest.
Throughout most of the country above average temperatures were recorded. Florida, for example, had its warmest year-to-date period on record. New Jersey ranked a second warmest period along with Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, Connecticut, and others.
Ruedi Reservoir is feeling the effects of an unusual water year, with less water for endangered fish and with low reservoir levels predicted for late summer and fall.
“This year was a strange year,” Tim Miller, a U.S. Bureau of Reclamation hydrologist who manages operations at Ruedi, said at an annual public meeting about reservoir operations held virtually Wednesday. “For most of the year, it seemed like we were doing well, we thought we would get a fill on the reservoir. However, things really turned around in late spring and early summer.”
At the meeting convened by the Bureau of Reclamation, Miller said the reservoir, which holds just over 102,000 acre-feet of water, topped out at 96,750 acre-feet this year — about 5,000 acre-feet short of filling. That means there is 5,000 acre-feet less water available this season to boost flows downstream for endangered fish in what’s known as the “15-mile reach” of the Colorado River near Grand Junction.
As reservoir levels continue to drop over the next month, Aspen Yacht Club members may not be able to access the boat ramp over Labor Day weekend. By Sept. 1, reservoir levels are predicted to be down to about 84,500 acre-feet and the surface to be at an elevation of 7,747 feet, which is 19 feet lower than when it’s full.
“After Sept. 1, it’s going to be dicey,” Miller said of accessing the private marina’s boat ramp. The U.S. Forest Service boat ramp will still be accessible at those levels, he said.
Bruce Gabow of the Aspen Yacht Club said that when water levels are 13 feet below full, the club’s docks become grounded and inoperable. He said that most years, boats are taken out of the reservoir by mid-September, but with water levels dropping sooner this year, many will need to go before the end of August.
“Everyone has kind of been expecting it, but they will be bummed out,” he said of the club’s members.
Ruedi Reservoir is currently 92% full, at 94,065 acre-feet. It topped out on July 17 at 96,914 acre-feet. In 2018, the reservoir also didn’t fill, topping out at 92,650 acre-feet, according to Miller.
Each spring, Miller must decide how much water to release from Ruedi and when to release it to make room for inflow from snowmelt. Those decisions are based on streamflow forecasts from the Colorado Basin River Forecast Center and the Natural Resources Conservation Service, as well as the Bureau of Reclamation’s statistical forecasts.
This year’s unusual conditions made for tricky forecasting, leading some to question whether more and better data collection is needed, instead of relying primarily on snow telemetry, or SNOTEL, data. These automated remote sensors collect weather and snowpack information in remote watersheds, but they provide only a snapshot of a specific location. Each of the three forecasting agencies over-predicted Ruedi inflow for the months of April, May and June.
Usually, the amount of runoff closely mirrors snowpack. And with snowpack in the Roaring Fork River basin slightly above normal, as measured by SNOTEL sites, it seemed that is where runoff would also end up. But parched soils from a dry fall sucked up some of the moisture before it made its way to streams and eventually the reservoir. Miller also suspects that a high rate of sublimation — where snow goes from a frozen state to vapor, skipping the liquid phase — may have also played a role.
“To do our statistical forecast, it’s 90% snowpack only,” Miller said. “We had some different variables this year.”
By the end of May, Miller realized inflow projections were too high and began scaling back releases. Ruedi also did not participate in Coordinated Reservoir Operations this year. In the annual CROS, which began around May 29, water managers from across the state aimed to enhance peak spring runoff by releasing water from reservoirs at the same time. The peak flows have ecological benefits, especially for fish in the 15-mile reach.
“It was pretty much a last-minute declaration we couldn’t do CROS,” Miller said.
April Long, executive director of Ruedi Water & Power Authority, suggested that water managers should explore other ways of collecting data in addition to SNOTEL information to improve forecast accuracy. The city of Aspen and Denver Water have experimented with LiDAR technology — which analyzes the reflection of laser light to create detailed three-dimensional maps — to track the depth of mountain snowpack, providing a more complete picture of the water contained in that snowpack.
“With this year of unexpected results from our snowpack and the way it melted off, I have concern that with climate change and climate variability, we are going to see more uncertainty,” Long said in a follow-up interview with Aspen Journalism. “I wonder how much benefit we could gain if we knew a little more.”
This map shows the snowpack depth of the Maroon Bells in spring 2019. The map was created with information from NASA’s Airborne Snow Observatory, which will help water managers make more accurate streamflow predictions. Jeffrey Deems/ASO, National Snow and Ice Data Center
A flight from NASA’s Airborne Snow Observatory gathers data about the snowpack above Dillon Reservoir on a flight. Information gathered from the flight helped Denver Water manage reservoir operations. Photo courtesy of Quantum Spatial
Editor’s note: This story has been updated to reflect the date Ruedi storage peaked in 2020.
Aspen Journalism is a local, investigative, nonprofit news organization that collaborates on coverage of water and rivers with The Aspen Times and other Swift Communications newspapers. This story ran in the Aug. 7 edition of The Aspen Times.
The COVID-19 pandemic in the United States is the deepest and longest period of malaise in a dozen years. Our colleagues at the University of Vermont have concluded this by analyzing posts on Twitter. The Vermont Complex Systems Center studies 50 million tweets a day, scoring the “happiness” of people’s words to monitor the national mood. That mood today is at its lowest point since 2008 when they started this project.
They call the tweet analysis the Hedonometer. It relies on surveys of thousands of people who rate words indicating happiness. “Laughter” gets an 8.50 while “jail” gets a 1.76. They use these scores to measure the mood of Twitter traffic.
Tweets from parks contained fewer negative words such as “no,” “not” and “can’t,” and fewer first-person pronouns like “I” and “me.” It seems that nature makes people more positive and less self-obsessed.
Parks keep people happy in times of global crisis, economic shutdown and public anger. Research has also shown that transmission rates for COVID-19 are much lower outdoors than inside. As scholars who study conservation and how nature contributes to human well-being, we see opening up parks and creating new ones as a straightforward remedy for Americans’ current blues.
Park visits are up during the pandemic
According to the Hedonometer, sentiments expressed online started trending lower in mid-March as the impacts of the pandemic became clear. As lockdowns continued, they registered the lowest sentiment scores on record. Then in late May, effects from George Floyd’s death in police custody and the following protests and police response once again could be seen on Twitter. May 31, 2020 was the saddest day of the project.
Recent surveys of park visitors around the University of Vermont have shown people using green spaces more since COVID-19 lockdowns began. Many people reported that parks were highly important to their well-being during the pandemic.
The powerful effects of nature are strongest in large parks with more trees, but smaller neighborhood parks also provide a significant boost. Their impact on happiness is real, measurable and lasting.
Twitter records show that parks increase happiness to a level similar to the bounce at Christmas, which typically is the happiest day of the year. Schwartz has since expanded his Twitter study to the 25 largest cities in the U.S. and found this bounce everywhere.
Parks and public spaces won’t cure COVID-19 or stop police brutality, but they are far more than playgrounds. There is growing evidence that parks contribute to mental and physical health in a range of communities.
It isn’t easy to create new parks on the scale of San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park or the Washington Mall, but smaller projects can expand outdoor space. Options include greening vacant lots, closing streets and investing in existing parks to make them safer, greener and shadier and support wildlife.
These initiatives don’t have to be capital-intensive. In the University of Pennsylvania study, for example, renovating a vacant lot by removing trash, planting grass and trees and installing a low fence cost only about US$1,600.
Cities can also create parklike spaces by closing streets to cars. Many cities worldwide are currently retooling their transportation systems for the post-COVID-19 world in order to reallocate public space, widen sidewalks and make more space for nature.
Urban designers, artists, ecologists and other citizens can play a direct role, too, creating pop-up parks and green spaces. Some advocates transform parking spaces into mini-parks with grass, potted trees and seating for just the time on the meter, to make a larger point about turning so much public space over to cars.
Or cities can invest a little more. Minneapolis, Cincinnati and Arlington, Virginia, have won national recognition for their ambitious investments in public park systems. These areas could serve as models for neighborhoods that lack access to parks.
A New Park Deal?
The United States has historically driven economic recovery with major infrastructure investments, like the New Deal in the 1930s and the 2009 American Reinvestment and Recovery Act. Such investments could easily include nature-positive spaces.