Author Archives: Tom Yulsman

Frankenstorm Sandy: A Meteorological Monstrosity with Links to Global Warming?




Commentary and Analysis by Tom Yulsman

The cold and snow that swept across the Front Range on Wednesday and Thursday may have created an early winter wonderland here. But that same weather front is now expected to play a role in creating what has come to be known as “Frankenstorm Sandy.”

This predicted hybrid of a hurricane and nor’easter exploded into the perfect media storm on Friday — several days in advance of its actual landfall. Such a storm may well be the only thing that could possibly cause a temporary pause in the saturation coverage of every nano-twitch of the presidential election polls.

As well it should.

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Vanishing Act: Drought and Warmth Send Colorado’s Snowpack into Freefall

By Tom Yulsman

Like a spring avalanche, snowpack in Colorado has plunged off a precipice. Statewide, snowpack usually peaks in early to mid-April, but this year it began to melt off rapidly in early March.

Except for the shoulders of Longs Peak and other mountains in the distance, almost no snow is evident in this picture taken above Gem Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park last Friday. The lake sits at 8,830 feet. (Photo/Tom Yulsman)

On March 1, snowpack in most of the mountainous parts of the state was between 70 and 89 percent of average. By the third week of the month, a dramatic melt-off was underway. Now, snowpack in the state stands at just 58 percent of normal. That’s only a bit higher than in March of 2002, a year that brought drought of historic proportions to Colorado and the West. By mid-June, 19 U.S. wildfires were burning, most in California, Utah, Colorado, New Mexico, Wyoming and Alaska. (The worst March conditions on record in Colorado were in 1977, when snowpack stood at just 46 percent of average.)

Almost all of the state is abnormally dry, with about half in moderate to severe drought, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. (For Boulder, it was the driest March on record, with just a trace of precipitation.) Drought extends all the way across much of the rest of the West as well, including California, Nevada, Utah, Arizona and New Mexico. The odds are not good for relief in the next few months, with higher than average chances of dry conditions continuing at least through June, according to the Climate Prediction Center.

Already, we’ve experienced the North Fork Fire southwest of Denver, which has killed two people and scorched more than 4,000 acres. (As of Saturday afternoon, it was 90 percent contained, according to the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office.) And with conditions in the state (not to mention across much of the West) shaping up to be quite combustible in the next few months, resource managers are getting increasingly concerned.

“Conditions are really bad,” U.S. Forest Service spokesman Steve Segin was quoted in the Denver Post as saying. “Conditions might improve. If they don’t, we’re in for a long haul.”


The dark blue line charts the early and precipitous decline in Colorado’s statewide impact. On average (the red line), snowpack is much higher in March, and does not peak until early to mid-April. Image/Natural Resources Conservation Service

Climate Skeptics on Record Heat: Have a Nice Big Slice of Cherry Pie

By Tom Yulsman

With astonishingly high temperatures for this time of year persisting over the Central and Eastern United States — including nighttime “low” temperatures that exceed the normal highs — it’s only natural to wonder what role climate change might be playing.

As Andrew Freedman of Climate Central put it Tuesday:

“In a long-term trend that has been found to be inconsistent with natural variability alone, daily record-high temperatures have recently been outpacing daily record-lows by an average of 2-to-1, and this imbalance is expected to grow as the climate continues to warm. According to a 2009 study, if the climate were not warming, this ratio would be expected to be even.”

Of course, it shouldn’t be any surprise that the blogosphere has lit up with denials that any such link between the record-breaking warmth and climate change exists. And in one very narrow sense, they’re right. That’s because the immediate cause is a huge north-to-south kink in the normally west-to-east flowing jet stream. This kink in turn has caused a large ridge of high pressure to become stuck over the Midwest and East, bringing unprecedented warmth.

The weather pattern responsible for the heatwave in the Midwest and Eastern U.S. (Credit/National Weather Service)

As Jeff Masters, a meteorologist with, reports in his blog, northern Michigan has recorded temperatures in the 80s — about 40 degrees above average for this time of year. International Falls Minnesota, sometimes called the “Nation’s Icebox,” has experienced unheard of temperatures pushing 80 degrees during the day, and lows that have failed to dip below 60 at night.

A balmy March evening in northern Minnesota? Really?

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