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Climate: From drought to deluge



Climate experts outline weather extremes across the U.S.

By Bob Berwyn

After years of persistent drought across big swaths of contiguous 48 states, the weather picture changed dramatically in 2012. Instead of dealing with parched ground, farmers in the Southeast weren’t able to harvest crops this summer because of standing water in the fields.

Mold and fungal diseases were reported across the region, particularly on crops such as corn, tomatoes and peanuts. The excess moisture has degraded the quality and flavor of many crops, including watermelons, tobacco, and peaches. Flooded soil  has hampered the growth of cotton and corn, with damage from excess moisture expected to cost billions, The National Climatic Data Center reported this week in its July update. Continue reading

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Colorado River Basin snowpack surges surges in April

Near-normal runoff expected in some headwaters streams


The Colorado River Basin snowpack zoomed upward in April.

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — Spring storms that repeatedly targeted the north-central mountains of Colorado in April help bring the snowpack to near normal in a few river basins. The May 1 snow survey showed the statewide snowpack climbing up to 83 percent of average for the date, the highest level of the year.

“Those wet storms really improved our water supplies, especially along the Front Range and Upper Colorado River basin”, said Phyllis Ann Phillips, state conservationist with the federal Natural Resources Conservation Service. Some headwaters of the Colorado and South Platte  River basins may see runoff near to slightly above average, the NRCS said in the monthly snowpack update. Continue reading

Global warming: More extreme rainfall events nearly certain

Warmer atmosphere, more moisture, more rain

Breckenridge, Colorado recently recorded an all-time 24-hour record rainfall event during a summer thunderstorm. Bob Berwyn photo.

Breckenridge, Colorado recently recorded an all-time 24-hour record rainfall event during a summer thunderstorm. Bob Berwyn photo.

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — Large parts of the northern hemisphere could see a 20 to 30 percent increase in extreme precipitation events by the end of the century. Extra moisture due to a warmer atmosphere dominates all other factors, leading to notable increases in the most intense precipitation rates, according to a new NOAA-led study.

The study shows a 20-30 percent expected increase in the maximum precipitation possible over large portions of the Northern Hemisphere by the end of the 21st century if greenhouse gases continue to rise at a high emissions rate.

“We have high confidence that the most extreme rainfalls will become even more intense, as it is virtually certain that the atmosphere will provide more water to fuel these events,” said Kenneth Kunkel, Ph.D., senior research professor at the Cooperative Institute for Climate and Satellites-North Carolina and lead author of the paper. Continue reading

Global warming: New study shows links between melting Arctic sea ice and extreme weather in mid-latitudes

Arctic sea ice dwindled to a new record low in Sept. 2012, with potentially serious consequences for weather in the mid-latitudes of the northern hemisphere.

Shifting wind patterns may drive more intense and persistent heat waves, blizzards, drought and flooding

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — More studies are showing that the massive loss of Arctic sea ice is going to have significant effects on mid-latitude weather. With more solar energy going into the Arctic Ocean because of lost ice, there is reason to expect more extreme weather events, such as heavy snowfall, heat waves, and flooding in North America and Europe, according to a new report.

“What we’re seeing is stark evidence that the gradual temperature increase is not the important story related to climate change,” said Rutgers researcher Jennifer Francis. “It’s the rapid regional changes and increased frequency of extreme weather that global warming is causing. As the Arctic warms at twice the global rate, we expect an increased probability of extreme weather events across the temperate latitudes of the northern hemisphere, where billions of people live,” she said.

The NOAA study, led by James Overland, Ph.D., of NOAA’s Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory in Seattle, Wash., shows that normal west-to-east flowing upper-level winds have been replaced by a more north-south undulating, or wave-like pattern. This new wind pattern transports warmer air into the Arctic and pushes Arctic air farther south, and may influence the likelihood of persistent weather conditions in the mid-latitudes. Continue reading

Hurricane Paul aiming at west coast of Baja

Storm could bring dangerous surge, flash flooding in the hills

Hurricane Paul, still with a distinct eye, is visible just off the tip of the Baja Peninsula in this NOAA satellite image from Monday afternoon.

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — Hurricane watches have been hoisted along the southwest coast of Baja, where a rare land-falling storm could bring a dangerous storm surge and the chance flash flooding in coastal hills.

Hurricane Paul is barreling toward the Baja coast with sustained winds still topping 100 mph, although the National Hurricane Center says the storm could weaken significantly before hitting the coast sometime late Tuesday or early Wednesday. Continue reading

Global warming will shift South Pacific rain band

A 2004 NASA satellite image shows a volcano erupting on Vanuatu, in the South Pacific.

Island nations can expect to see more drought and flooding

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — Already under the gun from rising sea levels, some South Pacific island nations could also be swamped by more extreme floods and hit by drought as global temperatures rise in response to more heat-trapping greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

The international study, led by CSIRO oceanographer Dr. Wenju Cai, examines how the South Pacific rain band will respond to greenhouse warming.

The South Pacific rain band is largest and most persistent of the Southern Hemisphere, spanning the Pacific from south of the Equator, south-eastward to French Polynesia. Occasionally, the rain band moves northwards towards the Equator by ip to 1,000 kilometers, inducing extreme climate events. Continue reading

Global warming: Severe Midwest storms increasing

Rains, flooding threaten water infrastructure

Climate researchers say they’ve documented an increasing number of severe storms in the Midwest most likely linked with global warming.

SUMMIT COUNTY — A startling increase in severe storms is straining water infrastructure and threatening public health and safety, according to a report from the Rocky Mountain Climate Organization and the Natural Resources Defense Council.

The number of those big storms has doubled in the last 50 years, with greatest increase in Wisconsin, Indiana and Michigan.

“Global studies already show that human-caused climate change is driving more extreme precipitation, and now we’ve documented how great the increase has been in the Midwest and linked the extreme storms to flooding in the region,” said Rocky Mountain Climate Organization president Stephen Saunders,” suggesting that it might not be accurate to simply characterize the storms as natural disasters. “And if emissions keep going up, the forecast is for more extreme storms in the region,” he said. Continue reading

West: USGS streamflow monitoring faces challenges

Budget crunch forces hundreds of stations to shut down, many more threatened by lack of funding

Click on the map to visit an interactive version with site-specific information.

Scott Hummer, the former Blue River Basin water commissioner for the State Engineer’s Office, checks a USGS gage on Tenmile Creek in Frisco, Colorado.

By Bob Berwyn

SUMMIT COUNTY —Unless it’s in a bucket or a measuring cup, water isn’t exactly the easiest substance to track. Ever-changing, from vapor to solid to liquid, and ever-moving, from stream to river to lake to ocean, it can be tough to measure.

So for years, ranchers, town planners and even angler and kayakers have relied on a huge network of streamflow gages maintained by the U.S. Geological Survey to help monitor water quality, measure and predict peak spring runoff and flooding potential, or even just the best time run some whitewater or to go fishing. In some places, the streamflow information is critical to helping protect endangered species.

But that network is shrinking, due mainly to budget constraints that already forced the USGS to shut down stations around the country. Just in the past few years, the agency stopped operating 133 water quality stations, many in New Mexico and Florida. Continue reading

Summit Voice 2011 in review: Summer

Online independent journalism in Colorado

Kayakers paddle on Dillon Reservoir this summer. With runoff raging and a strong monsoon season, the lake filled up nicely by mid-July.

Compiled by Kim Marquis

SUMMIT COUNTY — High water dominated July’s news in the Summit Voice as rivers rose across Colorado and flooding was made worse by a strong monsoon season that lasted well into August. Here are the highlights:
Lower Blue River edges close to flood stage
Lower Blue now at near-flood level
Summit County: The cup runneth over
Colorado: Forest Service reporting flood-damaged roads
Flash flood watch issued for much of the state
Summit County: High water closing roads, recpath
Summit County: Monday rainstorm sets all-time record
Summit County: Dillon Reservoir fills and spills
Water: Near-record inflows boost Lake Powell by 50 feet

Meanwhile, Denver recorded the hottest August on record.

Unfortunately, rising waters caused one kayaker death on the Blue. The same month a Copper Mountain worker fell to his death. In August, Dillon Police Officer Jim Schaffer was killed in a motorbike accident.

Breckenridge Ski Area’s Peak 6 expansion proposal dominated news coverage over the summer, with a public comment period stretching into mid-August and several meetings at the Breck town level that drew attention. Additional follow up stories:
Opinion: Some funky moves in the Peak 6 poker game
Breckenridge Town Council weighs Peak 6 pros and cons
Opinion: USFS stance on Peak 6 a bad deal for lynx Continue reading

Summit County: Dillon Reservoir fills and spills

July 27 is the latest fill date in recent memory, but careful operations helped reduce downstream flooding risk while ensuring maximum usable supplies

A moody winter scene along the shore of Dillon Reservoir.

By Bob Berwyn

SUMMIT COUNTY — After weeks of carefully juggling inflows, releases through the outlet works and diversions through the Roberts Tunnel, Denver Water officials said Dillon Reservoir filled completely July 27 and started spilling through the overflow drain, known as the glory hole.

It may be the latest the reservoir has ever filled, said Bob Steger, the Denver Water engineer who leads a team that computes the inflow forecasts and other information used to adjust the valves on the outlet works, sometimes on a daily basis.

Read more about the outlet works and the glory hole at this Summit Historical Society web page.  And Denver Water also maintains an interesting website about the construction and history of Dillon Reservoirs with a gallery of historical photos. Continue reading


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