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Colorado study aims to improve severe weather forecasts

Upper-atmosphere research aims to fill some data gaps

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Thunderstorms building over the Continental Divide in Colorado. Bob Berwyn photo.

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — The recent tornado disaster in Oklahoma once again showed that every minute of warning time in the face of severe weather can save lives. In the next few weeks, a team of meteorologists will be studying the atmosphere above Colorado to try and better predict when and where thunderstorms will rip across Colorado’s Front Range and the adjacent Great Plains.

The month-long (May 15 – June 15) field project will use high-flying aircraft and fine-grained computer simulations to try and point the way toward major improvements in lead times for weather forecasts during the crucial 6- to 24-hour window.

The Mesoscale Predictability Experiment (MPEX) is funded by the National Science Foundation.  The project includes participants from the National Center for Atmospheric Research; Colorado State University; the University at Albany, State University of New York; Purdue University; the University of Wisconson–Milwaukee; and NOAA’s National Severe Storms Laboratory.

Daily research starts with early morning flights to monitor the pre-storm atmosphere across Colorado and nearby states. The planes will cruise at 40,000 feet for up to six hours, which will enable researchers to thoroughly canvass the entire region where triggers for severe weather might be lurking. Continue reading

Report: Global warming not a big factor in 2012 drought

Natural climate variability the biggest player, scientists say

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Drought conditions persist across the central part of the country.

By Bob Berwyn

SUMMIT COUNTY — Last summer’s crippling Great Plains drought can’t definitively be linked with global warming, according to a team of federal scientists from various agencies. In a new report issued this week, the researchers said the drought was probably caused by a confluence of natural climate variations that might only come together in a similar constellation once a century.

Cyclical variations in ocean temperatures — especially the combination of a cooler-than-average Pacific Ocean and a warm phase of the North Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation may have nudged the region toward drought conditions, but those factors tend to be more of a factor in suppressing winter precipitation. Continue reading

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Colorado: Roberts Tunnel turns 50 this year

23.3-mile aqueduct the key to Front Range development

On February 24, 1960, Roberts Tunnel construction crews from east and west “hole through” and meet. View is from the grant heading toward the east portal. Photo courtesy Denver Water.

By Bob Berwyn

SUMMIT COUNTY — As much as we here in the high country like to grumble about “our” water going to the Front Range, the diversions are one of those facts of life that isn’t going to change anytime soon.

And while Dillon Reservoir is the visible symbol of that reality, that water wouldn’t be going anywhere without the Harold D. Roberts Tunnel, a 23.3-mile aqueduct that carries the water under the Continental Divide, as deep as 4,500 feet below the spine of the continent.

In Park County, the water empties into the South Platte River, feeding the Front Range Reservoirs that have enabled Denver to grow into a thriving metropolis at the cusp of the Great Plains and Rocky Mountains. Water diverted from the Blue River Basin in Summit County provides nearly 40 percent of Denver Water’s supply. Continue reading

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