Showing posts with label snow. Show all posts
Showing posts with label snow. Show all posts

March 07, 2019

A Big Year for Colorado Avalanches


Heavy snow this summer has been causing avalanches in the Colorado high country. Interstate 70 was closed on Vail Pass early this morning, in fact.

Here is why there are so many avalanches:
The “historic avalanche cycle” started in October and November, when Colorado got a lot of early-season snow. That snow rotted into facets: imagine ball bearings or sugar-like snow that can’t be formed into a snowball. That’s the weak layer. Then came lots more snow. In the past month, CAIC forecasters started seeing fewer avalanches releasing on that weak layer on the ground.
 Then came even bigger storms — like this past weekend when 40 inches fell in two days in the Central Rockies, or the 50 inches that piled up in 50 hours in the Four Corners area two weeks ago. And the slab grew even larger and heavier, all sitting atop the weak layer on the ground. That means every falling flake boosted the chance of a catastrophic slide. And in this latest round of storms, the final flake fell on slide paths above I-70.
I lifted this video and quote from an article in the online Colorado Sun go there for more video and background information.

February 14, 2019

"Frozen World"



Filmed in the southern Rockies, the Wet Mountain Valley to be exact.

January 13, 2019

Where Are the Dogs of Yesteryear?

Ubi sunt?
"Mais où sont les neiges d'antan?" asked the medieval French poet François Villon. Usually that is Englished as "Where are the snows of yesteryear?"

And where are the dogs of yesteyear?

M. with Jack the Chesapeake Bay retriever and Shelby the collie-Lab mix, also known as the Bandit Queen. North Taylor Creek, Sangre de Cristo Range, early winter, 2002(?).

March 04, 2018

Western Snowpack, March 4, 2018

Click to embiggen.
Since I live in one of the tan areas, this snow-moisture map reminds me of 2002 — the year of the Hayman Fire, the year that M. and I went clear to Nelson, B.C., to see some greenery.

January 10, 2018

Not the Best Snowpack Map I Ever Saw


So 2017 was a wet year overall here in southern Colorado but 2018 is starting to look . . . different.  Veteran journalist Allen Best, writing at Mountain Town News, notes,
At the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory near Crested Butte, billy barr (his choice of capitalization) has been keeping track of snow and temperatures since 1974. This winter has been surpassed by the lack of snow only by that of 1976-77. What is also notable about barr’s weather records for this winter is the string of highest temperatures, including the highest temperature in his data base for New Year’s Day: 37 degrees. . . .

From Pagosa Springs, Colo., comes this memory from Rod Proffitt:  “I must be getting to be an old timer. I remember the 1976-77 winter very well. I had just moved from Aspen to Cripple Creek to start a law practice, but I had promised some friends I would come back for Winterskol that year.
Believe it or not, I was able to drive over Independence Pass mid-January that year. I had a cousin living in Crested Butte that year. With no snow, the perma-frost went down below the water lines and froze up the whole town. They had a miserable winter that year.
Cripple Creek rarely had a snow cover so their wood pipes were much deeper and survived that winter, but in the Spring a mountain goat died and fell into one of the reservoirs on Pikes Peak. The whole town of Cripple Creek got sick that year. Yes, it was a memorable year….”the year of no snow” to us old timers.”
Best's Mountain Town News e-magazine is the kind of local journalism that we need more of. I'm just waiting for Foothills Town News.

With some sort of collective foresight, Colorado voters had already killed a bond issue that would have helped finance holding the 1976 Winter Olympics in Denver and in various ski resorts. And that was a Good Thing (TM).  

October 05, 2017

Make It Snow Make It Snow Make It Snow

1920s rain dance, probably at the Prairie Band Potawatomi agency in Kanas (WIkipedia).
Colorado ski areas and water managers keep employing rain-makers, but of the mechanical cloud-seeding variety, not the ritual variety, reports the Summit Daily.
The concept of cloud seeding has been around since the 1940s, when Bernard Vonnegut (brother of author Kurt) discovered that silver iodide could produce ice crystals when introduced into cloud chambers.

In those heady days, cloud seeding was heralded as a way to produce rain where there was none, boosting crop yields and filling reservoirs to the brim.

That was a wild overstatement, and cloud seeding's reputation suffered for it.
 • • •

Western Weather Consultants claims that its two seeding operations in the High Country generate between 180,00 and 300,000 added acre-feet of water per year, and that has been backed up by independent studies.
That's pretty impressive. Read the whole thing.

February 04, 2017

Out of Asia, Always Something Old

Float like a snowshoe, glide like a ski

At 145 cm, Altai's Hok backcountry ski
is about the same length as my old Army
-urplus trail shoe — but the Hoks glide, some.

When it comes to outdoor sports, Americans tend to favor gear over technique. We want to ride or ski on what the racers use, or what the pros use. "I know that this $1,200 fly reel machined from unobtainium alloy will make me a better angler!"

I chuckle a little at the converts to tenkara fly-fishing with their newly learnt Japanese vocabulary, because I think it is just the 17th-century English fly-fishing that Izaak Walton would have recognized — but with contemporary high-tech materials.

Yet I appreciate and support the minimalism of tenkara. A rod, a line, a few flies —go do it! It really works.

Getting around in the snow.

I have owned snowshoes since my teens, then got cross-country skis in my twenties (I wish that I had started sooner). 

Both let you move through snowy landscapes (not too steep). Both have long historical pedigrees. We identify snowshoes with North American Indians, but they were also used in Stone Age Europe. They are what you make with stone tools. 

With metal tools, you can cut and shape boards, giving you skis. Archaeologists suggest that skis were invented in Central Asia, but maybe they were invented independently in Scandinavia.

In a century, ski touring bindings went from simple straps that you slip your toe under (why Finns wore boots with turned-up toes) to these (or fancier). Synthetics largely replaced wood.

Ski like a Mongol/Tuvan/Kazakh/Siberian

Even as tenkara gets rid of the reel and the long fly line, a new Asian-inspired approach to ski touring takes a middle road between snowshoing (slow, utilitarian) and Nordic skiing (faster but trickier on steep slopes).

Some skiers are even getting rid of ski poles and returning to a simple stick, like these guys:


Or, more appropriately, like these guys — contemporary skiers in the Altai Mountains.
Contemporary Altai Range skiers. OK, I do see some ski poles there. (Photo: Alta Skis)
Formed in 2011, with offices in the US and Canada, Altai Skis revived the Central Asian style of wide skis with skins permanently attached. Their first model, the Hok (from Tuvan for "ski"), comes in just two adult lengths, 125cm and 145cm (and a 99 cm kids' model). It has metal edges and a permanently installed nylon skin with waxable Ptex tips and tails.

If you're more of a snowshoer at heart, you can buy bindings that fit any winter boot. If you come from an x-c ski background, you can get regular or cable 75mm three-pin bindings or adaptors for other styles, like NNN.

And for forty bucks, they will sell you a Tiak ("stick") if you can't make your own.

The problem with skiing here in the southern Rockies is that good snow and gentle terrain does not happen often enough. To get good snow, you have to move into more rugged forested areas and break trail. Lots of people use snowshoes with ski poles, which seems silly on level ground but helps when you're in powder on a slope.

After decades of flipping between speed (x-c skis) and flotation (snowshoes), I learned about the Altai Skis and bought a pair of 145cm Hoks (They also have a slimmer, faster backcountry model called the Kom,with fishscale waxless bottoms.)

I put three-pin cable bindings on them, because I have the boots, and in a nod to old-school skiing, have been using some old bamboo poles. I always wanted to be the last guy in Colorado with bamboo poles. One day I will cut a pine stick though; skiers with sticks do have an archaic silhouette. The stick is for balance and braking, but does not give the diagonal-stride push of the ski pole.

I took them out for two short test runs along the Sangres and then yesterday for a two-hour trip along the base of the Sawatch Range. My first thought was "Comfortable! I can go right into the trees with these."

The first two trips were more for familiarization and adjusting bindings. Yesterday I alternated between following a marked trail and going into untracked snow, up to knee-deep with some wind crust in places.

The Hoks certain held me up better than my skinny skis as I moved from soft snow to crusted powder to packed powder-and-ice. But unlike with snowshoes, I could get a little bit of a glide. Breaking trail is always work no matter what you use.

I have not yet used the Hoks in fresh deep powder, but an opportunity will come.

• • •

About that headline: The Romans used to say, "Semper aliquid novi Africam adferre" (Out of Africa, always something new.) They in turn got it from the Greeks, but to them it had the connotation of "Out of Africa, always something weird."

Aristotle, (384 to 322 B.C.), referred to the proverb in two of his books, Historia Animalium and Generatione Animalium, to explain the wild mélange of animals in Africa. He wrote that many of the animals unique to Africa were strange hybrids, suggesting that the lack of water forced the animals to meet at watering holes where they mated indiscriminately with one another.

March 29, 2016

Western Snowpack March 28, 2016

Here in southern Colorado, we are seeing the result of several storms that went north. My area got six inches of wet snow on Saturday the 26th, which was nice, but now it's dry and windy again.

March 03, 2016

March 2016 Western Snowpack

Averages dropped in many areas, since February was somewhat dry, but I keep hearing prediction of a snowy spring.

Meanwhile, I am sniffling from tree pollen and watched migrating tumbleweeds while driving to Colorado Springs yesterday. Troops at Fort Carson are starting grass fires in February, instead of waiting until March as usual. And a down powerline kicked off a nice little burn along the Huerfano River yesterday.

February 15, 2016

Western Snowpack, February 14, 2016

This map shows only the automated SNOTEL sites, which are at high altitudes. It looks pretty good, but my local meteorologist, who falls in the "serious amateur" class and whose family has been measuring snow here in the foothills since the 1920s, at least, says that we are only at 60–65 percent of seasonal average snowfall, which means that The Kid still has a job to do.

Or fire season might get serious again.

Down at the little volunteer fire department, we had a work session on Saturday for maintenace. My main contribution was sorting out a little issue with the pump on one of the brush trucks; I have now been with the department long enough to learn how certain pieces of equipment are likely to malfunction.

But then I went to start up the older pumper, which I had not driven in more than a year, and I was cranking it and cranking it —until I remembered that it has a manual choke. Pull choke knob — truck starts. And then it was a matter of becoming reacquainted with its two-speed rear axle while going up and down hills.

February 01, 2016

Where's That Snow Plow?

Screen shot of the area around Florence this morning.
Apparently, The Kid is paying us a visit, having dropped six inches (15 cm, 1/3 cubit) overnight with more expected today.

Out walking the dog, I could hear the rattle of a snow plow on the state highway. But I could have stayed indoors and played with the computer, where a new system lets you track Colorado state snow plows online.
The Automated Vehicle Locator (AVL), will allow the public to go online to see which areas have already been plowed in a snowstorm. 
With that information, users can see which roads are the best for driving. People will also be able to check a plow's current location and see the direction they're traveling.

Plows that haven't moved for more than 16 minutes will not be visible. CDOT says 860 of 970 plows will be outfitted with the AVL system.
Track the plows here, or go to the highway-information home page for links to webcams and other information.

January 01, 2016

El Niño ya viene

When I posted those snowpack numbers, I knew that for the Arkansas River drainage, where I live, the better-than-average figure represented snowfall along the Continental Divide. At my foothills location, the ground is mostly dry, and the High Plains mostly likewise.

But this latest NASA report suggests that we may yet get the big snow. Maybe it will be "three feet of glop," as sometimes happens in the spring.

Must. Cut. More Firewood. Now.

Let's Start 2016 with a Look at the Snowpack

Lots more information at the National Weather and Climate Center.

November 27, 2015

Of Avalances, Machismo, and Derring-Do

Local search-and-rescue groups on Facebook are all cross-posting this Denver Post article: "Ignorance and Early-Season Avalanche Danger."

The author, columnist Steve Lipsher, writes,
Each year, it seems, the reckless streak grows bolder among Colorado skiers and snowboarders, eager to show off their GoPro videos on YouTube and earn bragging rights among their friends.
And each year, on average, six or seven of them will die in avalanches.
He is not sold on the latest gadgets:
[Other backcountry snow enthusiasts] carry specialized equipment designed to help them breathe in a burial or inflate giant airbags instantly to help them stay on top of an avalanche, falsely thinking that replaces good decisions or adequately protects them.
The SAR groups will still have work to do. Humans are hard-wired for risk. I am all for education on avalanche-awareness, but education will never reach them all.

November 17, 2015

Waiting for El Niño or Someone Like Him

Other than some rain in October, it has been a dry few weeks here in the southern Colorado foothills. Dry — and sometimes windy enough — to bring back bad fire memories, like the one in NE Custer County near Wetmore on October 23, 2012.

And it is supposed to be an El Niño year, so where is the snow?

Finally something blew in last night. Although areas north of Colorado Springs (the Palmer Divide/Monument Hill), some High Plains counties, and Raton Pass into New Mexico had blizzard conditions, we awoke to about an inch of snow with a lot of a wind.

(There is more snow in the high mountains, and ski areas are opening.)

Because the 1997–98 El Niño announced itself with a three feet of snow on Thanksgiving weekend, I was expecting more.

But contrary to the "worst yet" headlines, this blog post by Bob Tisdale answers the question "Is the Current El Niño Stronger Than the One in 1997/98?" with "No." Lots of charts and graphs that you can read for yourself.

Still, a little more than an inch would be nice. But a dry early winter is not uncommon here — so long as it is followed by the usual March and April snows. The 1997–98 El Niño actually faded in the spring, which was not extraordinarily snowy.


Yes, there is a Psychedelic Era pop-culture reference in the blog title.

April 25, 2015

Current Drought, Snowpack Conditions in the West


As we await the formation of another "Albuquerque low" and with it some upslope rain and snow on Sunday and Monday, here is the situation as of two days ago.

February 28, 2015

Colorado Snowpack, February 25, 2015

From the Rocky Mountain Coordination Center, which supplies fire weather forecasts but has quite a bit of current weather information.

February 06, 2015

Waiting for Some Snow

Click to embiggen.
Put this snowpack map together with this news release (PDF) from the federal Natural Resources Conservation Service: "Snowpack Percentages Decline throughout Abnormally Dry January," and you will see why we are hoping that the predictions for a wetter spring come true.
January is an important month for mountain precipitation over the course of the average year.The month of Apriltypically provides the most mountain precipitation at 3.6 inches, followed by March at 3.4 inches, and January coming in the third highest at 3.2 inches. This January provided only 1.47 inches of mountain precipitation, 45% of the average. The South Platte saw the greatest precipitation totals compared to normal at 62% of average. 
Here in the foothills, I have had my snowblower out only three times, and the deepest snow was only seven inches. (Via Coyote Gulch, the go-to Colorado water blog.)