Mike's Wx Blog: April - September 2011

Go For The Gold

As summer draws to a close, the weather in Colorado is typically the nicest of the year. Cool nights, mild days and plenty of blue sky. But the finest color to be seen at this time of year is the glory to the golden aspens.

It looks like we should see our peak color pretty much on schedule this year. The best color over the northern mountains should be from September 20th to the 30th. The central mountains will be about five days behind, with the southern mountain areas rounding out the last days of the month and the first ten days of October.

Why Do We Get The Gold?

Perhaps the most appealing part of autumn is the gold found in the mountains each year. Not the gold sought by prospectors over a century ago, but rather the gilded glory of Colorado's famous aspen trees. The decrease in sunlight switches off the mechanism in the leaves that creates chlorophyll - the green color in the leaf. As the green fades, the gold color dominates until dying leaf flutters to the ground. The best years for aspen viewing are those with well-timed rains and no major fall storms. A too dry summer will send the leaves falling quickly, while a wet summer tends to make them darken to brown or black. The most brilliant display of aspen occurs when we have a mild late summer and periodic gentle rain, combined with a dry September that includes few big windstorms or early snows.

Usually the first signs of aspen gold begin in mid to late August over the higher forests of central and northern Colorado. By the second and third week of September, many aspen groves are well worth a day's drive. Usually the peak time to view aspen is around the last weekend of September. After that, early snows will knock down the leaves and others drop away by themselves. Aspen color does not vary nearly as much as the rich reds and purple leaves of the Midwest and East, but there is something about gold leaves against a backdrop of rich evergreen and deep blue sky that makes our fall mountains special indeed!

Nothing says "autumn" in Colorado quite like the sight of a mountainside covered in the stunning leafy gold of aspen trees. Colorado's famous high country aspen reliably turn gold from the second week of September through the first week of October. Populus tremuloides - or the quaking aspen - can be found in all eleven of Colorado's national forests and their autumn fireworks are worth the drive.

Where The Aspens Grow

Aspen naturally propagate in areas where hardier trees have been damaged or destroyed. This was the case in Colorado, where the slender trees grew in after logging stripped trees from mountain areas. Characterized by their elaborate root systems, aspen reproduce by sending up suckers from the roots to create "clone" stands of trees. These clones, connected underground at the root, are genetically identical to the mother tree. The identical nature of a clone stand is most obvious in springs, when each tree in the stand leafs at the same time, and in fall, when each tree turns the same shade of gold.

Historically, native tribes used the aspen bark to make medicinal teas to alleviate fever. The inner bark was sometimes eaten raw in the spring, and the outer bark occasionally produces a powder that was used as a sunscreen. Aspen is a favorite of Colorado wildlife too. Beaver use aspen for food and building; elk, moose, and deer eat the twigs and foliage. Other names for quaking aspen are golden aspen, mountain aspen, popple, poplar and trembling poplar.

Despite Coloradans' affinity for aspen, these delicate trees are not highly recommended for residential landscaping, especially at lower elevations of the state. Aspen as susceptible to many diseases, their convoluted root systems often grow into sewage drainage systems, and they generally last no longer than about 10 years out of their native habitat.

Here Are Some Great Drives

Here is a good website, with info on the fall color...


Here are some great places to view the aspen gold!

  • Steamboat Springs, Elk River country north on County Road 129. Also check the view on Rabbit Ears Pass and Buffalo Pass east.
  • Colorado 14 through the Poudre Canyon west of Fort Collins.
  • Trail Ridge Road (US 34) through Rocky Mountain National Park.
  • Flat Tops country between Buford and Newcastle.
  • Tennessee Pass, US 24, from Leadville to Vail.
  • Boreas Pass between Como and Breckenridge, a 23 mile road cresting at 11,481 feet.
  • Guanella Pass between Georgetown and Grant.
  • Grand Mesa, Colorado 65 east of Grand Junction and north of Delta.
  • Maroon Bells near Aspen, a classic Colorado view!
  • Independence Pass, Colorado 82 between Twins Lakes and Aspen.
  • Colorado 135 between Crested Butte and Gunnison. Also try Kebler Pass west of Crested Butte on Gunnison County Road 12!
  • Cottonwood Pass, Colorado 306 between Buena Vista and Taylor Park.
  • Monarch Pass, US 50 from Salida to Gunnison.
  • Cochetopa Pass between Saguache and Gunnison.
  • Gold Camp Road - Colorado 67 between Divide and Cripple Creek.
  • Lizard Head Pass, Colorado 145 between Dolores and Telluride.
  • Slumgullion Pass, Colorado 149 between Lake City, Creede and South Fork.
  • US 160, Navajo Trail, between Pagosa Springs and Cortez.
  • Platoro Reservoir, south of Del Norte and west of Conejos.
  • Cucharas Pass, Colorado 12, from Trinidad to Walsenburg.
  • CO 103 from Evergreen Parkway west to Echo Lake.
  • McClure Pass - This is a spectacular 8,755 foot pass south of Carbondale along Colorado 133 and the Crystal River.
Take your camera, a picnic lunch and have a great time!

Weather Data Desired For Downtown

All across the country, weathercasters are frequently asked about why the temperatures are taken at the airports. The basic answer is that we need to have the weather observations for aviation safety, so they are taken at the airport.

Prior to the move from Stapleton to DIA, the National Weather Service did extensive comparisons of the data from both sites and found that the actual numbers were pretty close. There are some times when the location makes a big difference, for example when a "back door" cold front hits DIA with wind, cold and snow hours before it gets to downtown Denver. In order to get more representative readings in the downtown area, local TV stations have placed weather instruments at their studios, but these are not official observations and do not go into the climate records for the city of Denver.

How To Add A Weather Station

I have been forecasting in Denver for over 20 years and had long hoped to develop a much more accurate weather station and have it sanctioned by the National Weather Service as the official downtown Denver observation. The addition of another set of hourly observations would put an accurate report right in the middle of the surrounding reports from the outlying airports. In addition, this downtown observation would be of great value to Denver Regional Medical Center as the Air-Life choppers regularly must land with limited local weather information.

The Denver metro area had been lacking a set of highly accurate downtown observations since the closing of Stapleton Airport and the move nearly 20 miles northeast to DIA. Since that time, the observation network for the fast growing Denver area had consisted of a ring of reports from the suburbs, but little reliable data from the city. Hourly observations were available from Buckley AFB (KBKF), Centennial Airport (KAPA), Denver International Airport (KDEN) and from Boulder-Jeffco Airport (KBJC). None of these sites are within 12 miles of downtown and in the case of DIA (the official observation), the site is 18 miles away from the center of the city. As the subject of climate change continues to increase in importance, so did the need to get additional high quality observations in the Denver area.

History of Denver Data

As a bit of history, the Stapleton site was used starting in the 1920s, when the airport was established there. Prior to Stapleton, the Denver observations were taken from the Denver Water Board, the Post Office and other downtown locations since the early 1870s. The actual reporting station location has been moved 4 or 5 times over the years, for a variety of reasons. Obviously, as scientists, we would love to have nearly 140 years of rock solid consistent data, but we do the best we can with the changing locations. I always had said, "talk to your congressman, not your weatherman" - as the issue was much more fiscal science than physical science - we are talking tax dollars!

Finding A Way

Nonetheless, I continued to try to find a way to add another weather station in the downtown area. The problem with doing this was threefold - 1) Funding without using tax dollars. 2) Finding a suitable location - difficult to find an open area in the city. 3) Getting permission from a variety of different government agencies.

The biggest issue had been funding for such a weather station. As you know, unlike a home or hobby type weather station, official observation sites are expensive, requiring high end, extremely accurate equipment, set in a location that meets the stringent requirements of the National Weather Service. The combination of cost and finding a proper site in a crowded urban area seemed to make such a new weather station an unlikely prospect.

Bravo to Vaisala

But we did find a way to fund a high end weather station! Vaisala, one of the world's leading manufacturers of extremely accurate weather instruments, stepped up to the plate. Although based in Helsinki, Finland, Vaisala has a national office located in Broomfield, CO. After several meetings with the folks at Vaisala, they graciously provided the funding and equipment to install a high end weather station.

Getting the Right Site

The next step was to find a suitable location in a heavily developed urban area. In January of 2008, we held a meeting at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science. I met with Rob Doornbos from Vaisala, Dave Noel from the DMNS, Larry Mooney - the local MIC at the time, Nolan Doesken - Colorado's State Climatologist, Byron Louis of the DEN-BOU NWS, Mike Barth from NOAA and several officials from the City of Denver. Sandy MacDonald - Head of ESRL was also involved as a consultant, although he was in Washington DC at the time of the meeting. At NOAA, we worked with Lynn Maximuk and Tom Townsend in developing this project.

We discussed several possible locations around the city and the DMNS and finally decided that we could site the weather station on an open area on the City Park Golf Course. The weather station would be safe from all but the most errant golf shots and the grassy surface would be perfect to allow us to half correct readings.

We got to work planning the weather station, even my wife Cindy, was involved as she contacted a local fence company and talked them into donating the security fencing! The electrical was also donated.

The Weather Station Arrives!

The unique synergy between Vaisala, the National Weather Service and the City of Denver and the other players enabled us to develop a new weather station in the metro area at little or no cost, but great benefit to taxpayers!

This weather station became operational in April of 2009 and the observations are available from the National Weather Service and from the Denver Museum of Nature and Science. These weather observations do not replace those from DIA, but do augment the overall climate data record for the Denver Metro Area.

Here is the link to check this weather station and the link to the data from the Denver NWS site.

Denver Museum

National Weather Service

I think in these times of very tight budgets that we have accomplished something both unique and useful! I hope that you have found this interesting!

Get Your Weather Alert Radio

As we transition into late summer, there is still plenty of severe weather to worry about in Colorado. Slow moving thunderstorms can mean flash flooding - one of the biggest weather hazards. On July 31, 1976, one of the worst disasters in Colorado history hit in Big Thompson Canyon. A stalled thunderstorm dropped nearly a foot of rain over the drainage of the Big Thompson River, sending a deadly wall of water down the canyon. Most of the campers and hikers in the canyon had no knowledge of the impending danger. One hundred and forty four people lost their lives in that flood.

The best way to get timely weather warnings is with a 24/7 Weather Alert Radio by Midland. These life saving devices will sound an alarm anytime the National Weather Service issues a watch or warning for Tornadoes, Flash Floods or Severe Thunderstorms. The radio is always monitoring the weather in silent mode, but will sound the alarm when dangerous weather is approaching.

You can program the radio to sound the alarm for any single county in your area, or several counties. The radios work anywhere in the United States, so take one along in the car or when camping.

7News, Midland Radio and Walgreens Have Teamed Up

Midland Radio is the largest supplier of weather alert radios and they make a variety of models. This year, 7News and Walgreens have teamed up with Midland to provide the model WR 120 at a substancially reduced price! This is the one I have both in my home and on the desk in the 24/7 Weather Center and it works very well! You can get the WR 120 for less than 30 dollars at Walgreens - a great deal! Be sure to pick up some AA batteries too, as the radios feature a battery back up in case the power goes out during a storm.

I cannot stress enough the value of having one of these radios in your home, school and office. During severe weather, seconds save lives and these radios are the very first thing the National Weather Services uses when they issue warnings. Faster than phone calls, texts, TV alerts - the 24/7 Weather Alert Radio is the best way to get warnings!

Much More Information Right Here

With the help of Lisa Hidalgo, Matt Makens and Maureen McCann, we have created an excellent resource for answering any questions you might have about the 24/7 Weather Alert Radios. Simply CLICK here for much more info! These radios make great gifts too, as they also provide instant weather forecasts, current conditions, fire weather updates and climate summaries.

Another point to consider is peace of mind for the kids! The major tornado outbreaks this spring have been traumatic for little folks. You can easily teach even a toddler to touch the button on the radio for instant weather updates.

Follow Our 7News Storm Chaser Team

  • Tony Laubach
  • Follow along with 7News Weather Producer Tony Laubach as he chases tornadoes this year as part of the Discovery Channel "Storm Chasers" series.

  • Tim Samaras
  • Local severe weather scientist Tim Samaras has invented high tech tornado instruments that he deploys in front of approaching tornadoes. It is "Twister" in real life!

  • Maureen McCann
  • 7News Meteorologist Maureen McCann is chasing with the experts this season, follow along on her blog!

  • Roger Hill
  • One of the legends of tornado chasing, Roger Hill takes his tour groups right up to tornadoes and gets them safely out of harm's way.

    Tornado Alley

    Most tornadoes in the United States occur in the central plains, with the greatest likelihood of twisters in the southern plains around Kansas, Texas and Oklahoma. Colorado lies of the western fringe of "Tornado Alley", but our state still averages between 40 and 60 tornadoes per year.

    The peak season for tornadoes is in the spring and early summer. From March through June, about 70% of all the tornadoes in a year will occur. This is due to the fact that the weather patterns that are needed for tornado development are most common in the spring and early summer.

    Super Cell Thunderstorms

    Most tornadoes form from large rotating thunderstorms called "Super Cells". These monster storms tend to develop ahead of cold fronts that push southward from Canada across the central U.S. As the fronts sag into the warm and humid air that covers the southern plains, the colder air wedges under the warm air, creating lift. The lifted air rises up to form thunderstorms that can rapidly grow to heights of 40 to 50 thousand feet above the ground.

    The storm pushes high into the sky, reaching into the jet stream - the band or river of fast moving air that flows around the world. It is the increase in wind speed with height that causes the thunderstorm to begin a large, slow counterclockwise rotation. This rotating thunderstorm is what is classified as a "Super Cell".

    Spinning Like A Figure Skater

    Once the super cell storm develops, the best analogy for thinking about how the tornado forms is to think of a figure skater doing a spin. The skater starts with their arms out, and is rotating rather slowly. As the skater brings their arms in, the rotation begins to speed up. In physics, this is called "the conservation of angular momentum". The rotation gets faster and faster as the size of the rotating column grows narrower. This is a very simplistic description, but eventually this narrow rapidly rotating column of air will drop to the ground as a tornado.

    The Fujita Scales

    s of 2007 this scale was replaced by the enhanced Fujita (EF) scale. The EF attempts to rate tornadoes more accurately, taking into account that it often requires much lower wind speeds to create F5-like damage. The new EF scale is now the official standard to measure the strength of tornadoes.

  • EF 0 - 65 to 85 mph
  • EF 1 - 86 to 110 mph
  • EF 2 - 111 to 135 mph
  • EF 3 - 135 to 165 mph
  • EF 4 - 166 to 200 mph
  • EF 5 - Over 200 mph
  • Infamous Tornadoes in U.S. History

    Tornadoes are not named like hurricanes are, but the strong or deadly tornadoes are usually remembered for the town or location that they affected. For instance, the infamous "Xenia Ohio Tornado" of April 1974, or in Colorado, the "Limon Tornado" in June of 1990 and now the "Windsor Tornado" in 2008.

    Perhaps the single worst tornado on record was the great "Tri-State Tornado" of March 1925. This huge tornado started in southeastern Missouri and tore a path of destruction all across Illinois, before ending in western Indiana. The twister covered a distance of 219 miles and was on the ground for over 3 hours. In the days before adequate warnings, the storm caught everyone off guard. The Tri-State Tornado killed 689 people, injured over 2,000 and caused 17 million dollars in damage - a very large figure in 1925!

    Thunderstorm and Tornado Structure

    Tornadoes usually form on the back edge of the thunderstorm cloud, meaning that most of the storm has already passed overhead. Often the rain, hail, thunder and lightning have mostly gone by and then the tornado occurs. That is why you will often see the sky looking very bright behind the tornado - a dramatic contrast to the very dark funnel. After the tornado, the sky often quickly clears as the storm moves away. There are, however, no hard and fast rules for tornados, so sometimes the twister occurs in the midst of a large area of thunderstorms, so after the tornado occurs, it just rains and rains.

    Heavy Rain and Large Hail

    Here are a few facts about rain and hail. Most of the rain that we get in Colorado forms from a mix of water droplets and ice crystals in the clouds. Under certain conditions, water will remain in liquid form even with temperatures that are well below freezing. This type of water is called "super-cooled". In most of our summertime clouds, we have a mix of super-cooled water and ice crystals floating around high above us. The ice crystals rapidly grow as they "feed" off of the super-cooled water and they basically form big fat snowflakes. These snowflakes fall slowly to Earth and begin to melt as they reach warmer air closer to the ground. The resultant raindrops will fall to Earth at about 15-20 mph.

    In stronger thunderstorms, the tiny ice crystal gets bombarded by the super-cooled water thanks to the extreme turbulence in the storm cloud. The ice crystal forms a small stone of ice which is the beginning of a hailstone. If the storm is quite strong, there are intense updrafts of wind that can keep the growing hailstone suspended in the cloud for a long time. A hailstone that is the size of a golf ball needs an updraft of nearly 60 mph to stay aloft. A baseball sized stone requires a 100 mph updraft to keep it "afloat".

    When the hail falls to Earth, they come zipping down at 70 to 100 mph. That is why it is a good idea to stay indoors during a major hailstorm!

    A Great New Website About Climate Change & Colorado

    If you would like to learn much more about how climate change will be impacting our state, check out this terrific link. Colorado Climate.

    Global Warming, the Greenhouse Effect, Climate Change. These topics are in the news almost daily and seem to be a source of a great deal of controversy, perhaps even more now than in recent years. Here are some of my thoughts on the these important issues.

    The release, in late 2009, of private e-mail conversations among climate researchers created a bit of a firestorm in the media and in the blogosphere. Some claim that a "Global Warming Hoax" has been exposed. Others state that this was a "criminal act" that has little or no bearing on the consensus of climate researchers on the state of the science in terms of anthropogenic climate change.

    No doubt that the release of these e-mails damaged the trust of the public about the "settled nature" of this issue. These e-mails were thrust onto the scene just ahead of the international conference on climate change in Copenhagen, Denmark and have been a lightning rod of conversation and debate from many differing points of view.

    Climate-Gate In Perspective

    In my opinion, there were about 60 megabytes worth of e-mail exchanges released, but only a small fraction of the private comments truly raise any concern. Scientists often speak casually among themselves in a short-hand of sorts. In this respect, saying something such as "the trick in this problem" does necessarily mean an actually "trick" or slight of hand, but rather a method of calculating something. Granted, it does not sound good, or look good when clipped out of context, but there were no comments such as "boy are we pulling a fast one on the public, we are going to get rich!"

    Another comment that was brought up is one about how, "we cannot show any warming, and it is a travesty that we cannot". In this case, the comment refers to a lack of an adequate monitoring system to show what we fully expect to be there. Once again, it looks bad, but actually has a different meaning.

    The point is, cherry picking quotes can often be very misleading and this goes for all sides of this issue. The hope that I have in the release of these e-mails is that our climate researchers will be emboldened to just "put it all out there". Let's have the fully open discourse from all sides and maybe, just maybe, we can get past the political wrangling and truly get down to the business at hand. We will have to make worldwide policy decisions on climate and energy for the generations to come. There is a lot of political and financial risk in this endeavor and this new issue of released e-mails should serve as a example of something to avoid in the future.

    Research Needs to be Transparent

    It is very important that the climate researchers are as up front as possible with their research, the data and any uncertainty they may have. This is such an important issue, with huge international implications. There must be total transparency in the scientific process as we are depending upon the true experts to help guide policy makers. In that respect, it is vital that the true experts give us the truth.

    In light of these developments. It is apparent that global warming is not fading as an issue, in fact, things are getting even more serious! Here are some recent highlights. Keep in mind that I am on the side of this issue that agrees that mankind is having a distinct impact on the warming of our world. My greatest frustration is when this subject gets torn down into quick sound bites and fractured thought strings.

    Glaciers And Ice Sheets Are Melting

    Global ice-sheets are melting at an increased rate; Arctic sea-ice is disappearing much faster than recently projected, and future sea-level rise is now expected to be much higher than previously forecast, according to a new global scientific synthesis prepared by some of the world’s top climate scientists. The cold winter of 2010-11 in the eastern United States, did little to increase the overall ice growth in the far northern reaches as the weather there was actually milder than normal.

    Climate Change Is Happening Faster

    In a special report called ‘The Copenhagen Diagnosis’, the 26 researchers, most of whom are authors of published IPCC reports, conclude that several important aspects of climate change are occurring at the high end or even beyond the expectations of only a few years ago.

    The report also notes that global warming continues to track early IPCC projections based on greenhouse gas increases. Without significant mitigation, the report says global mean warming could reach as high as 7 degrees Celsius by 2100. This may be a high and alarming figure, but many of the projections given in the past 10-15 years have actually been rather conservative in terms of CO2 emissions and the decrease in Arctic ice.

    The Copenhagen Diagnosis, which was a year in the making, documents the key findings in climate change science since the publication of the landmark Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Fourth Assessment Report in 2007.

    New evidence was presented at this conference and can be found on the Copenhagen website at http://www.copenhagendiagnosis.org.

    There was an excellent commentary in the New York Times that put this issue into great perspective.

    Back to Basics on Climate Change.

    We have been blessed to have such a beautiful, bountiful and life-giving planet. It is our duty, to take the best care of this gift that we have been given.

    Climate Controversy Is Overstated

    In the world of truly peer reviewed science, the degree of controversy is not as great as you might believe. Here are a few thoughts about things you may hear or read about global warming. Unfortunately, the recent e-mail issue (some call it Climate-gate) has now called into question the validity of "peer review" - this is very unfortunate in the short term, but may actually serve to make us more diligent about these things in the future.

    There are often comments about unusual local weather events such as the snow in Vegas or the cold weather in New England. It is important to understand that short term weather is to climate as one play in a football game is to the entire NFL season. The e-mail comment about how cold it was in Colorado during the baseball playoffs this fall is a prime example. The researcher was lamenting the fact that anytime the weather turns unseasonally chilly, there are alot of comments about "how can there be any global warming?"

    Local and Regional Climate Impacts

    An example of local or regional weather vs global climate change was the cold and snow that was experienced in the northern and eastern United States this past winter. The cold and snow was due to a southern bulge in the circumpolar vortex, bringing the icy air down from Canada into eastern states. By the way, Alaska had very mild weather for their area and Denver certainly had a lack of snow - one of the driest since 1870. Regional short-term weather should not be used as an example of climate change, which is a long term phenomena. It is no more correct to blamed global warming for one strong hurricane or a hot summer.

    There is an often quoted issue of 1997 being the warmest year and that global temperatures have cooled since that time. This information is misleading. In 1997, the world climate was influenced by one of the strongest El Nino events ever recorded. This pool of very warm Pacific Ocean water bumped global temperatures higher. At the present time, the Pacific in is the midst of a slight La Nina - cooler sea surface temperatures. These periodic warming and cooling episodes need to be taken into consideration in the the overall global temperature trend.

    The Sun vs Small Amounts of Greenhouse Gases

    There is much discussion about the fact that the sun has by far the largest impact on our climate. The sun has certainly not been overlooked by the many experts worldwide that contributed to the most recent IPCC Assessment on climate. The periodic changes in solar output and the orbital changes are taken into account in the climate studies and modeling.

    Another comment often heard is that CO2 is just a tiny fraction of the atmosphere. Just because CO2 is a trace gas does not mean that it is not important in the equation. Small amounts do matter - I weigh 200 pounds, but it certainly does not take 200 pounds of arsenic to kill me. Another way to look at the impact of trace amounts is to consider the same amount of carbon monoxide (CO) in the atmosphere (about 385-390 ppm) - that level of CO would be lethal!

    The majority of climate scientists remain in agreement that the overall warming of the planet (about 1.5 degrees Farhenheit since 1900), has been caused in part by mankind. This warming is due to the increase of so called "greenhouse gases" - such as CO2, methane and CFCs (chloro-fluorocarbons). These gases absorb outgoing heat from our planet and "reflect" it back to Earth. When this happens, energy from the Sun is trapped in our atmosphere and warms our climate.

    The Greenhouse Effect IS Normal

    As often noted, the Greenhouse Effect is normal and natural, in fact if not for this effect, the Earth would be about 60 degrees Farenheit colder - a lifeless ice planet. The problem we face is that the delicate balance of temperature may be upset by a change in atmospheric chemistry. In the past 200 years (since the Industrial Revolution) the increased burning of fossil fuels has released vast amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. The concentration of CO2 has risen about 25% in the past two centuries from 280 parts per million to 390 parts per million. Here are two links to an excellent description of the roll of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

    NASA Scientist Explanation part 1.

    NASA Scientist Explanation part 2.

    Humans Are Having An Impact

    Human activity releases about seven billion metric tons of carbon dioxide into the air every year - adding to the 750 billion metric tons that are already there. Of the 7 billion tons, only about three billion tons stays in the atmosphere; the rest is absorbed by plants and the oceans. This "carbon sink" capacity complicates the issue of global warming, because the oceans have had a vast holding capacity for CO2. The oceans are becoming more acidic, however, and there is concern that this carbon sink capacity may reach a limit.

    Some scientists feel that the increase in atmospheric CO2 will be offset by the ability of plants and the oceans to absorb this gas. In fact, some experts believe that the increase in CO2 will be a good thing - improving crop yields and making more parts of the world able to support crops. At the same time, others worry that warming will cause more severe droughts in key agricultural areas. In addition, which plants will benefit most - will it be useful crops, or weeds!

    Climate Change is Very Complex

    The issue is not a simple one because we must use computer models to predict future climate. These models are very complicated and must be run on a supercomputer. Even with today's technology, we cannot perfectly model something as complex as our atmosphere, so the models are simplified and do have errors. One of the undisputable facts is "we cannot even predict tomorrow's weather with 100% accuracy, how can we expect to predict the weather for the next 100 years! Of course, we are not attempting to forecast day to day weather that far in advance, just trends. There is no way to run an actual atmospheric simulation of the changes to come as we only have this one Earth - there isn't another similar planet nearby to run actual experiments.

    Mike Nelson's Opinion

    My opinion is that we are indeed having a profound impact on the warming our climate, although this effect has been riding along side of a naturally occurring warmer period during the second half of the 20th century. It is vitally important that we study this topic with even greater effort in order to be able to take action for the future. This action may well be to use technology to bring ever increasing efficiencies to our society. Through a more efficient use of our fuels and energy resources, we will be able to limit the amount of greenhouse gases released, while still enabling our complex technological society to function and thrive.

    In the unlikely event that we found out in 30 years that humans did not have the power to change the climate, we will be much better off to have taken the steps to use less fuel and conserve our resources. The research and discoveries that we make in the coming decades will enable mankind to whether the changes in climate and the increased demand for global energy reserves. A quote attributed to Albert Einstein is a favorite of mine, "the problems we face cannot be solved with the same level of thinking as at the time they were created".

    The whole concept of somehow capping greenhouse gas emissions or even lowering them is growing less likely as the world population and global energy use continues to increase. It is much more likely that the CO2 and other green house gas emissions will continue to increase for decades to come. In that light, we may have to look more toward how do we deal with the changes that will likely result. I have serious doubts that we will be changing the CO2 content in our atmosphere, except to increase it.

    Likely Results of a Warmer Climate in the Western United States

    In the Rocky Mountains, a warming of the climate will likely mean hotter, drier summers and milder, but still perhaps stormy winters. The amount of snowfall may drop on the plains, aside from infrequent major blizzards, while the mountains may see the snow levels and the tree level rise to higher elevations. The biggest worry that climate scientists have is that the weather will become more extreme - more heatwaves, drought, but also more flash floods and severe local storms. These events have always been with us, but the concern is that they will occur with greater regularity.

    Critical Voices and Skeptics

    There are some critical voices out there, but many of the skeptics of anthropogenic climate change are not primarily trained in atmospheric science. These may be very bright individuals, but they have backgrounds in other disciplines such as physics, geology or economics. Certainly these are well educated people, but it is analogous to asking a climate scientist their opinion on the best place to drill an oil well. This is not to say that these voices should not be heard, they may offer a fresh perspective on the issues and serve to make sure that the data is scrutinized for the utmost accuracy. Different disciplines may also bring other ideas to the table in terms of mitigation of climate change or possible alternatives to fossil fuels. Remember, Einstein started as a postal clerk!

    There is still a concern with some individuals that present themselves as experts on climate change. Many have connections to companies and organizations with a strong interest in casting doubt on a scientific concensus. This is where physical science takes a backseat to political science. This can be dangerous from any side of this issue and is another reason why the climate science community needs to stand up and face critics, rather than trying to silence them by forbidding them to publish their views in various scientific journals. Let the skeptics speak and put anything they have out there for critical review.

    There is nothing wrong at all with differing points of view on the subject, but it must be accompanied by quality peer reviewed science. The more that the disparate voices can come together on this issue and at least try to find some common ground, the better for future generations. If we just offer ridicule and commentary without hard evidence, it is really just so much hot air (and we may already have too much of that!).

    The Energy - Environment - Ecoomy Issue

    We will need every bit of cooperation from all sides to truly solve the energy/environment issues that face us in the coming decades. I doubt that we will come to terms with reducing carbon emissions, the population growth alone will preclude that. In addition, the growing 3rd world does not want to live in a hut with one light bulb, they want the same things we enjoy.

    Where will we get the energy? Fossil fuels are amazing, but the demand will only soar. We are tranferring so much wealth to other countries and there is no way that we could ever domestically replace what we must import. From a national economic and security point alone, we have to widen our energy portfolio. Wouldn't it be great to be able to tell OPEC, Russia, Venezuela that "we really don't need your oil".

    Granted, we get much of our oil from Canada and some other "friendlier" nations, but it is a fungible commodity - that world oil price is still enriching the Middle East and that puts the U.S. in a position of weakness.

    I am not opposed to coal - but we must burn it better, nuclear, natural gas, wind, solar. We need it all and we need to invest in a smarter grid.

    I hate for America to not be at the energy forefront in the 21st Century. We can lead the world with better and cleaner ways to make power, we have done it before with major endevours. The Transcontinental Railroad in the 1880s, the Manhatten Project, The Interstate Highways, The Space Program, the Computer Revolution.

    Instead of bowing down to special interests, we must, for our heirs, do the right things. To paraphrase JFK, "not because they are easy, but because they are hard."

    For More Information

    I have written about this subject in far greater depth in chapter 6 of my current book - THE COLORADO WEATHER ALMANAC. The book is available from Amazon.com

    There is a local group of climate scientists, geologists, physicists and interested citizens that partake in a study group. In addition, there is an excellent organization that provides in depth information about the changes expected in the Rocky Mountain area.

    If you are interested, check out the following...

  • The Denver Climate Study Group
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  • Rocky Mountain Climate Organization
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    Other websites I recommend...

  • Climate Central
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  • Real Climate
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