Drought news: The drought is worsening across the Midwest #CODrought

December 1, 2012

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From Reuters (Carey Gillam):

While conditions started to improve earlier in November, they turned harsh to close out the month as above-normal temperatures and below-normal precipitation proved a dire combination in many regions, according to the Drought Monitor, a weekly compilation of data gathered by federal and academic scientists issued Thursday.

Forecasts for the next several days show little to no relief and weather watchers are predicting a drier than average winter for much of the central United States.

“The drought’s impacts are far reaching,” said Eric Luebehusen, a meteorologist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, in the report.

The U.S. High Plains, which includes key farm states of Nebraska, South Dakota, and Kansas, are the hardest hit. In that region, almost 58 percent of the land area is in extreme or exceptional drought, the worst categories of drought. A week ago, the tally was 55.94 percent.

Nebraska is by far the most parched state in the nation. One hundred percent of the state is considered in severe or worse drought, with 77.46 percent of the state considered in “exceptional” drought – the worst level, according to the Drought Monitor.

Overall, roughly 62.65 percent of the contiguous United States was in at least “moderate” drought as of November 27, up from 60.09 percent a week earlier,

The portion of the contiguous United States under “extreme” or “exceptional” drought – the two most dire classifications – expanded to 20.12 percent from 19.04 percent.

From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Garrison Wells):

A scant 0.02 inches of precipitation fell on Colorado Springs in November, a tie for 9th driest in history “and that’s bad enough,” said Randy Gray, meteorological technician with the National Weather Service in Pueblo. “It’s at a critical point now,” he said. “Currently, practically all of El Paso County is in what is called extreme drought conditions.”[...]

November’s average high for Colorado Springs is 51 degrees and the average low is 25.2 degrees. The mean, that’s right in the middle, is 38.1 degrees, Gray said. The city’s mean temperature this November through Thursday was 5.1 degrees above where it normally sits. The average precipitation for the month is .40 inches.

The outlook doesn’t get any better for at least the next few months, Gray said. “The bad news is that for this part of the country especially, the drought conditions are expected to persist or possibly even intensify,” he said.

That’s bad news all around. Farmers, already hit by high prices for hay and other supplies, may face more price jumps, said Ken Bachmann, store manager at the Big R of Falcon. The price of hay is up 44 percent this year.


DARCA: There’s still room for the train tour December 7

December 1, 2012

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From email from DARCA:

We do have a few more seats on the California Zephyr next week so please let me know very, very, soon if you would like to join us as I am in the process of sending in the final passenger list to Amtrak. Please look at the agenda as we do have an outstanding list of speakers.

More infrastructure coverage here.


CMU: Drought and Agriculture panel December 3 #CODrought

December 1, 2012

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Here’s the email from Colorado Mesa University (Hannah Holm):

On Monday, Dec. 3 at 4pm, a panel of speakers will discuss drought and agriculture. This panel is part of CMU’s weekly “Natural Resources of the West: Water and Drought” seminar series. The panelists will be:

Bruce Talbott, Fruit Grower
Hugh Sanburg, Rancher
Mark Harris, Farmer, Grand Valley Drainage District
Max Schmidt,Orchard Mesa Irrigation District

All seminars are open to the public and are held from 4:00 – 5:15pm in the Saccamano Lecture Hall, Wubben Science Building Room 141, at Colorado Mesa University.

URL to watch streaming video: http://www.ustream.tv/channel/9952647.


NWS: A Statistical Preview of Denver’s December Weather — 3rd snowiest behind March and November

December 1, 2012

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Here’s the release from the National Weather Service Denver/Boulder. Here’s an excerpt:

THE WINTER MONTHS OF DECEMBER THROUGH MARCH ACROSS NORTHEASTERN COLORADO ARE WIDELY VARIABLE WITH RESPECT TO TEMPERATURE AND SNOWFALL. HISTORICALLY, DECEMBER CAN FREQUENTLY SEE HIGH TEMPERATURES CLIMB INTO THE MILD 60’S WHILE AT TIMES EXPERIENCE VERY COLD TEMPERATURES IN THE MINUS SINGLE DIGITS. ON DECEMBER 21ST, 1983, THE HIGH TEMPERATURE MAXED OUT AT A FRIGID -8 AND IS CURRENTLY DECEMBER’S COLDEST LOW MAXIMUM TEMPERATURE SINCE 1872.

DECEMBER IS TYPICALLY THE FIRST MONTH OF THE WINTER SEASON WHERE EXTREME ARCTIC BLASTS CAN REACH THE EASTERN PLAINS OF COLORADO. SHORT DAYLIGHT HOURS COMBINED WITH THE OCCASIONAL DEEP TROUGH OF LOW PRESSURE CAN USHER IN A FRIGID NORTH CANADIAN AIRMASS INTO THE HIGH PLAINS REGION. DECEMBER CAN ALSO BE CHARACTERIZED AS A MONTH OF HAVING BOTH DRY AND BREEZY BROWN-GROUND CONDITIONS WITH LOW SNOWFALL, WHILE IN OTHER YEARS THE MONTH RECEIVES THE CITIES FIERCEST SNOWSTORMS.

DENVER’S MONTHLY MEAN TEMPERATURE FOR DECEMBER IS 30.0 DEGREES AND IS DENVER’S COLDEST MONTH OF THE YEAR. DECEMBER EDGES SLIGHTLY COLDER THAN JANUARY WHICH HAS A MEAN MONTHLY TEMPERATURE OF 30.7 DEGREES (1981-2010 AVERAGES).

DECEMBER’S DAILY NORMAL HIGH TEMPERATURES HOLD FAIRLY CONSTANT THROUGH THE MONTH STARTING WITH A HIGH OF 45 DEGREES AND ENDING THE MONTH WITH A NORMAL HIGH OF 43 DEGREES. FOR LOW TEMPERATURES, THE MONTH BEGINS WITH A NORMAL LOW OF 19 DEGREES AND FINISHES WITH A LOW OF 17 DEGREES. THE WARMEST TEMPERATURE EVER RECORDED DURING THE MONTH OF DECEMBER, SINCE RECORDS BEGAN IN 1872, WAS 79 DEGREES ON THE 5TH DAY OF THE MONTH, 1939. DECEMBER’S COLDEST TEMPERATURE EVER IN DENVER WAS -25 ON BOTH THE 24TH OF 1876 AND THE 22ND OF 1990…

BEHIND MARCH AND NOVEMBER, DECEMBER IS DENVER’S 3RD SNOWIEST MONTH WITH THE CITY NORMALLY COLLECTING 8.5 INCHES, BASED ON AVERAGES FROM OLD STAPLETON INTL AIRPORT. SIMILAR TO DENVER’S OTHER 3 SNOWIEST MONTHS OF MARCH, APRIL AND NOVEMBER, DECEMBER HAS THE CAPABILITY TO PRODUCE BIG SNOWSTORMS. IN FACT, THE HEAVIEST AND LONGEST DURATION SNOWSTORM IN DENVER’S HISTORY OCCURRED FROM THE 1ST THROUGH THE 5TH OF DECEMBER, 1913. THAT 5 DAY SNOWSTORM DUMPED 45.7 INCHES ON THE YOUNG CITY OF DENVER AND BROUGHT ALL OPERATIONS TO A HALT FOR WEEKS…

AFTER A NOVEMBER 2012 WITH ABOVE NORMAL TEMPERATURES AND BELOW NORMAL PRECIPITATION, THE SAME PATTERN IS EXPECTED TO HOLD THROUGH THE FIRST WEEK OF DECEMBER 2012. THE SHORT TO MEDIUM RANGE MODELS INDICATED A MEAN TROUGH OF COLD LOW PRESSURE DEVELOPING OVER THE NORTHERN AND CENTRAL ROCKIES FROM THE 2ND WEEK THROUGH THE 3RD WEEK. AFTER THE 3RD WEEK OF THE DECEMBER 2012, THE LONG RANGE MODELS INDICATE A BIAS TOWARD ABOVE NORMAL TEMPERATURES WITH NEAR NORMAL PRECIPIATION EXPECTED THROUGH FEBRUARY 2012.


Grand Canyon as old as the dinosaurs, suggests new study led by CU-Boulder

December 1, 2012

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Here’s the release from the University of Colorado at Boulder (Rebecca Flowers/Jim Scott):

An analysis of mineral grains from the bottom of the western Grand Canyon indicates it was largely carved out by about 70 million years ago — a time when dinosaurs were around and may have even peeked over the rim, says a study led by the University of Colorado Boulder.

The new research pushes back the conventionally accepted date for the formation of the Grand Canyon in Arizona by more than 60 million years, said CU-Boulder Assistant Professor Rebecca Flowers. The team used a dating method that exploits the radioactive decay of uranium and thorium atoms to helium atoms in a phosphate mineral known as apatite, said Flowers, a faculty member in CU-Boulder’s geological sciences department.

The helium atoms were locked in the mineral grains as they cooled and moved closer to the surface during the carving of the Grand Canyon, she said. Temperature variations at shallow levels beneath the Earth’s surface are influenced by topography, and the thermal history recorded by the apatite grains allowed the team to infer how much time had passed since there was significant natural excavation of the Grand Canyon, Flowers said.

“Our research implies that the Grand Canyon was directly carved to within a few hundred meters of its modern depth by about 70 million years ago,” said Flowers. A paper on the subject by Flowers and Professor Kenneth Farley of the California Institute of Technology was published online Nov. 29 in Science magazine.

Flowers said there is significant controversy among scientists over the age and evolution of the Grand Canyon. A variety of data suggest that the Grand Canyon had a complicated history, and the entire modern canyon may not have been carved all at the same time. Different canyon segments may have evolved separately before coalescing into what visitors see today.

In a 2008 study, Flowers and colleagues showed that parts of the eastern section of the Grand Canyon likely developed some 55 million years ago, although the bottom of that ancient canyon was above the height of the current canyon rim at that time before it subsequently eroded to its current depth.

Over a mile deep in places, Arizona’s steeply sided Grand Canyon is about 280 miles long and up to 18 miles wide in places. Visited by more than 5 million people annually, the iconic canyon was likely carved in large part by an ancestral waterway of the Colorado River that was flowing in the opposite direction millions of years ago, said Flowers.

“An ancient Grand Canyon has important implications for understanding the evolution of landscapes, topography, hydrology and tectonics in the western U.S. and in mountain belts more generally,” said Flowers. The study was funded in part by the National Science Foundation.

Whether helium is retained or lost from the individual apatite crystals is a function of temperatures in the rocks of Earth’s crust, she said. When temperatures of the apatite grains are greater than 158 degrees Fahrenheit, no helium is retained in the apatite, while at temperatures below 86 degrees F, all of the helium is retained.

“The main thing this technique allows us to do is detect variations in the thermal structure at shallow levels of the Earth’s crust,” she said. “Since these variations are in part induced by the topography of the region, we obtained dates that allowed us to constrain the timeframe when the Grand Canyon was incised.”

Flowers and Farley took their uranium/thorium/helium dating technique to a more sophisticated level by analyzing the spatial distribution of helium atoms near the margin of individual apatite crystals. “Knowing not just how much helium is present in the grains but also how it is distributed gives us additional information about whether the rocks had a rapid cooling or slow cooling history,” said Flowers.

There have been a number of studies in recent years reporting various ages for the Grand Canyon, said Flowers. The most popular theory places the age of the Grand Canyon at 5 million to 6 million years based on the age of gravel washed downstream by the ancestral Colorado River. In contrast, a 2008 study published in Science estimated the age of the Grand Canyon to be some 17 million years old after researchers dated mineral deposits inside of caves carved in the canyon walls.

Paleontologists believe dinosaurs were wiped out when a giant asteroid collided with Earth 65 million years ago, resulting in huge clouds of dust that blocked the sun’s rays from reaching Earth’s surface, cooling the planet and killing most plants and animals.

Because of the wide numbers of theories, dates and debates regarding the age of the Grand Canyon, geologists have redoubled their efforts, said Flowers. “There has been a resurgence of work on this problem over the past few years because we now have some new techniques that allow us to date rocks that we couldn’t date before,” she said.

While the dating research for the new study was done at Caltech, Flowers recently set up her own lab at CU-Boulder with the ability to conduct uranium/thorium/helium dating.

“If it were simple, I think we would have solved the problem a long time ago,” said Flowers. “But the variety of conflicting information has caused scientists to argue about the age of the Grand Canyon for more than 150 years. I expect that our interpretation that the Grand Canyon formed some 70 million years ago is going to generate a fair amount of controversy, and I hope it will motivate more research to help solve this problem.”

More Colorado River Basin coverage here and here.


Snowpack news: Upper Colorado River Basin = 40% of avg, all eyes at Denver Water are on the mountains #CODrought

December 1, 2012

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Click on the thumbnail graphic for today’s snowpack picture from the Upper Colorado River Basin, home to much of Denver Water’s collection system.

From KDVR.com:

This fall has been unusually warm and dry in the Mile High City and up and down the Front Range and not many people are complaining…

The unusual weather has many Colorado water managers concerned. According to the latest survey, the state snow pack now measures 41 percent of average. That’s not only affecting Colorado skiers and ski resorts, it could mean water restrictions if the trend continues.

“It’s been a really dry spring and fall and so we are concerned about the conditions,” said Stacy Chesney, Denver Water spokesperson. “We’re hopeful that we get snow this winter but if it remains really dry we may have to do additional [Mandatory] water restrictions this coming spring and summer.”

Denver Water relies on reservoirs for a good deal of its water supply. Currently, reservoir levels are 15 percent below normal.

From the Summit Daily News (Caddie Nath):

Forecasters usually base long-term prediction models on El Niño and La Niña patterns. An El Niño winter will likely favor southern Colorado with the prime powder. A La Niña year, like the almost-legendary winter of 2010-11, tends to suggest a better winter is in store for the northern part of the state, including Summit County. But in the throes of a worsening drought, this year is unhelpfully following what forecasters jokingly call La Nada — showing neither pattern and making it difficult for weather watchers to anticipate any long-term trends at all.

“The crystal ball is a little fuzzy,” said Bob Henson, of the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research in Boulder.

But it would be reaching to call forecasters optimistic.

There’s little moisture in the seven to 10-day forecast, the timeframe meteorologists can predict with some accuracy, and long-term models point to above-average temperatures if nothing else. This winter likely won’t deliver what Colorado needs to escape the drought, experts say.


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