Steve Skinner

We are in the middle of the wettest winter on record in the lower 48 states. As I write this, it is 43 degrees in Winter Park and raining in Redstone. This season, massive avalanches have killed six people so far and swept across and closed, along with rockslides, regional highways and roads, including I-70, Highway 82, Highway 40 and Castle Creek Road, all roads I frequent. The speed limit signs on Berthoud Pass are under snow. Epic.

A look at the weather radar shows a phenomenon known as an atmospheric river pouring moisture into California and the West from the Pacific Ocean south of the Hawaiian islands. It’s the Pineapple Express!

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, these rivers in the sky are typically 400 to 600 kilometers wide, and this current river has come all the way from Hawaii to your favorite Northern California town.

Wikipedia calls the period between 2012 and 2016 in California an “historic drought.” The period between 2011 and 2014 was the driest on record in California.

Sudden relief has been coming in the form of snow and rain. Is the epic drought over?

Lake Powell has dropped to 41 percent of capacity. This winter’s snowpack is not supposed to make much of a dent, but it just keeps coming, and things can change.

Going over the top of a dam is not supposed to be an option. In 1983, waves lapped at the top of the Glen Canyon Dam in Arizona, which forms Lake Powell. Engineers had left the reservoir a little too full. They did not anticipate the April and May snowstorms that refused to stop coming, followed by unanticipated June gully washers that flooded rivers throughout the Rocky Mountains and rushed the dam.

Operators at Glen Canyon were forced to eject water out of malfunctioning spillways as fast as possible, but it was not fast enough. There was a near-disaster at the 710-foot-tall concrete plug that is perched 15 miles above the Grand Canyon. In desperation, a crew installed plywood flash boards on the top of the dam while waiting for some fabricated steel water deflectors to be delivered.

The winter of 1982-83 featured the strongest El Niño weather event on record. El Niños come from warm water near the equator on the Pacific and CAN dump a lot of moisture on the Rockies. Recently, we had the leftovers of an atmospheric river dumping mostly rain in the valley with warm, wet snow up high. I remember pushing to get down Walsh’s!

Last month mountain passes in Northern California were digging out of 11 feet of sudden snowfall. In 2017 there were tornado warnings in the Lake Tahoe area. Two weeks ago, over two dozen died in Alabama from one of the biggest tornadoes recorded in that area.

I have spent more years than I can believe between Colorado and California. I have noticed the climate changing, and I believe the overwhelming majority of climate scientists who say we are mucking things up by burning fuel. Think of the atmosphere as the air in a garage. Even if the garage is really big the air becomes deadly if you leave the door closed and keep the cars running. Some people do that on purpose to kill themselves.

At the most recent climate summit, the Chinese vowed to take the lead in finding a way out. They are committed to researching and manufacturing renewable technologies that utilize energy sources like solar, wind and water. In the USA we may be missing out on the next industrial revolution and handing all the profits over to the Chinese again. The art of the deal?

Right now, our leader mocks the scientific community and environmentalists as he gleefully rolls back regulations, including many that address climate change and public health. What?

Today, along our precious and pressured Colorado River, coal trains and oil tankers shudder down the tracks next to the West’s water supply, just a thin line of earth embankment standing between drinking water and disaster. For money.

 

Steve Skinner is putting his head in the snow. Reach him nigel@sopris.net.

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