Uncertain winter in the forecast

El Niño may be talking back to Colorado ski resorts this winter. The Pacific Ocean warming event has strengthened in recent months and already appears to have influenced Colorado’s fall weather, according Klaus Wolter, an atmospheric scientist with the University of Colorado at Boulder and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. However, Wolter suspects that ski areas around the state will be cursing rather than praising El Niño at the end of the winter of 2009-10.

Wolter’s characterized the October snowstorm that hammered much of Colorado as a scenario that is typical of El Niño during the fall. The warming phenomenon tends to make for a wetter than average fall season, according to the scientist.  “Four of the last five El Niños have had a snowy October here on the Front Range of Colorado,” he said. “In general, it tends to be wetter than average in the fall season – September through November – from Arizona through New Mexico and Colorado into the high plains.”

But Wolter added that this year’s El Niño most likely will impact Colorado’s winter weather in a way many skiers won’t like. He noted that high elevations from the San Juan Mountains north tend to experience drier than average winters during an El Niño winter. Wolter expects the storm track to trend mostly to the south and said there should be fewer midwinter storms in the Colorado Rockies.

“You get fewer storms, and every once in a while we’ll get hit and those storms can be healthy storms, by all means, but you shouldn’t expect a lot of powder skiing,” he said.

But there is also a silver lining, said Wolter. Temperatures will tend to hover closer to normal and there should be fewer windstorms, like those that plagued Durango and Colorado last winter.

If the current El Niño continues to grow into a “strong event,” then the Southwest could be in for a wetter-than-normal winter, Wolter said.  He added that he expects the storm track to move back north as winter comes to a close, and that should bring heavier snowstorms to Colorado if El Niño is still a factor next spring.

The last El Niño to influence Colorado’s winter weather was in 2006-07, Wolter said. But that one produced an unusually snowy midwinter and he said the state should not expect a repeat of the blizzards that hit just before Christmas and that lasted through the first weeks of 2007.

Green affordable home breaks ground

An ambitious effort at “affordable green” broke ground in La Plata County last week. On Nov. 13, Colorado Housing Inc. and the Regional Housing Alliance of La Plata County started construction the region’s first net-zero energy affordable home.

Last Friday, the partnership set off on the construction of an affordable home that will offset all of the energy it consumes through renewable sources such as on-site solar thermal and solar electric panels. CHI and the RHA collaborated on the design of the single-family home, which will be sold to a local family at or below 80 percent of the area median income.

The goal of building a net-zero energy affordable home originated from a request from the Town of Ignacio Board of Trustees. The lot on which the home will be constructed originally belonged to the Town of Ignacio. During negotiations with CHI for the sale of the land, the town explicitly requested that the home be “built green.”

In order to reach the ambitious goal of net-zero energy, the home will employ several energy efficient construction methods and renewable energy systems. The walls and roof will be constructed of SIPS, (Structural Insulated Panel System), which has 125 percent the insulation value required by code. The heating system will be a combination of passive solar gain supplemented with a geoexchange system tied to in-floor radiant heat. Domestic hot water will be powered by solar thermal panels with an electric back-up. Appliances will be powered by solar-electric panels.

At the groundbreaking, Ignacio Mayor George Whitt described the home as “a house of the future” and went on to say, “We’ve got a lot of houses to build in this area. We hope this will rub off on other people who will come by, take a look at it, and use it as a model.”

CHI Executive Director Julie Simmons thanked the town for its support of affordable housing and recognized the success of CHI’s partnership with the RHA. The partnership allowed them to overcome the two greatest obstacles to building in Ignacio: recruiting buyers and finding land. “CHI has been trying to build in Ignacio for eight years,” she said. “This is the first and hopefully isn’t the last.”

CHI and the RHA are currently screening potential homebuyers.

Canyons of the Ancients enhanced

The Canyons of the Ancients National Monument grew by nearly 5,000 acres this week, thanks to a major federal purchase. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced that their agencies would acquire seven parcels of high value conservation land in the West, totaling 5,026 acres. The largest of them is a 4,573-acre property within the Canyons of the Ancients National Monument in Colorado.

The acquisition was authorized by the Federal Land Transaction Facilitation Act of 2000, which established a special fund to purchase private inholdings in Western states from willing sellers.

“These land purchases are a very worthwhile and much-needed investment,” said Salazar. “The properties being brought into public ownership are remarkable for their extraordinary natural, scenic, recreational, cultural and historical value. Their acquisition will benefit the American people now and in the future.”

The Canyons of the Ancients property accounts for about 25 percent of the private lands inside the Monument and contains 25 documented sites of cultural importance, including Jackson’s Castle and the Skywatcher Site, a 1,000-year old Ancestral Puebloan solstice marker. The property is believed to contain more than 700 other as yet undocumented sites of cultural importance.

Hazards removed on Dolores River

Some unwelcome teeth were pulled on the upper Dolores River last week. Greater Dolores Action rallied a group of community members on Nov. 11 to remove metal hazards from “car body alley,” a stretch of the river plagued by hazardous metal and concrete obstructions.

During the past year, Scott Clow, chairman of GDA, used global positioning software to map more than two dozen sites in and along the Upper Dolores where large pieces of metal and concrete pose hazards to wildlife and recreational users.

Volunteers from the citizens’ nonprofit group began work on removing the hazards from the river last week. A portion of funds earned from the 2009 Dolores River Festival were used to offset costs. Officials from the Colorado Division of Wildlife are cooperating in the effort, as some of the metal to be removed upstream of town is in a State Wildlife Area.

Clow noted that members of GDA are excited about being able to implement what will likely be “Phase One” of the effort. He concluded that removal of these hazards will make it safer for boaters, fishermen and all kinds of recreational users and ultimately improve the area as a fishery.

– Will Sands



In this week's issue...

January 25, 2024
Bagging it

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January 26, 2024
Paper chase

The Sneer is back – and no we’re not talking about Billy Idol’s comeback tour.

January 11, 2024
High and dry

New state climate report projects continued warming, declining streamflows