Monthly Archives: October 2016

Looking Forward to Winter

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No season is the subject of speculation quite the way winter is.  Sure, people anticipate all four seasons, planning activities such as vacations, sporting events, and outdoor activities around each one.  But, there is something about the way winter is anticipated, as experiences can vary year to year in winter more than in any other season.  Every October, speculation begins to intensify.  Fear and dread clearly radiate from the voices of some, while excitement and anticipation come from others.  Most likely, this depends on one’s location, as well as preferred activities.

I spent a lot of years in the Midwest, and completely sympathize with those who dread winter, and hope for nothing more than to have their pain be as minimal as possible for the season.  Here in Colorado, on the other hand, enthusiasts of outdoor snow sports, mostly skiing and snowboarding, anticipate winter with great excitement, typically hoping that the coming season’s snowfall and snowpacks will be at least in line with seasonal averages, if not more.

As an Epic Pass skier who lives in Denver, my ideal winter would be one with plenty of snow in the mountains, particularly the resorts I ski near the I-70 corridor, but generally milder east of the mountains, where Denver is.  And, given this year’s setup, I may actually get this kind of winter that I want!

I have received quite a few questions, both from people local to Colorado, and those considering traveling here to ski in the mountains, regarding what kind of winter to expect.  Now that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA) has released its outlook for the season, there is no better time to give my own take on how winter 2016-17 is looking.

First, I should note that, the NOAA forecast, as well as other forecasts already made for the winter season primarily focus on one phenomenon: La Nina.  This, of course is the inverse of El Nino.  So, while El Nino winters tend to be wet to the south and dry to the north, La Nina winters will tend to be the opposite.

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This is reflected in NOAA’s graphical precipitation outlook for the winter.

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However, this year’s La Nina is likely to be a weak one.  Both El Nino and La Nina can be strong, moderate, or weak, and the predictive power of the phenomenon is limited in cases when the anomalies are weak.  In these cases, I find it useful to look at other patterns that are beginning to emerge when speculating about long-range weather patterns.

Anomalies in Sea Surface Temperatures are the most commonly used data point when predicting weather long term.  This is because the ocean retains much more heat than land or air, making it more likely that the current pattern will persist for longer.  Ocean temperatures can also have a major impact on atmospheric circulation, as is evidenced by the El Nino phenomenon itself.

When looking at current SST anomalies, three patterns emerge as having the potential to impact the weather Colorado and the rest of Western North America will experience this winter.

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First is the weak La Nina, whose impact would be more precipitation for the Northwest, but less for the Southwest.

Second is the abnormal warmth off the East Coast of North America.  This pattern emerged at the end of a summer that was hotter and drier than normal across much of the Northeast, a pattern that generally has continued, although they are currently experiencing a cold snap.  This warm anomaly, if it persists, would mostly likely lead to frequent northwesterly flow over Western North America, as the predominant pattern in winter is one called a wave #3 pattern.  This means three ridges and three troughs over the globe, a ridge to our west and a trough to our east.

The final temperature anomaly that appears to be in a crucial area are the warm anomalies off the coast of Alaska.  These warm temperatures could strengthen a phenomenon known as the “Aleutian Low”, which would act to steer wet weather into the Pacific Northwest.  Under this scenario, Colorado and the interior west will likely be drier.

All three phenomenon point to, although not with too much confidence, more frequent northwesterly flow across the state.  This pattern tends to be dry in Colorado overall, but, as pointed out by Joel Gratz, is a favorable wind direction for upslope storms at ski resorts along the I-70 corridor, including Vail, Copper Mountain, and Breckenridge.

With La Nina being weak, and the other two SST warm anomalies (see map above) being in close proximity to areas of cool anomalies, there is low predictive power to this seasonal forecast.  Any scenario is still possible.  However, signs are pointing, generally, towards a dry winter for much of the west, particularly the Southwest, and a wet winter in the Northwest.  Locally, in Colorado, the most likely scenario is a mixed bag for the ski resorts, with the storms that do occur favoring the corridor of popular resorts near I-70 1-2 hours west of Denver.

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And a warm and dry winter on the East side of the Continental Divide.

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(Note: the two photos above are from the previous winter season)

 

 

 

The Quest for Freedom

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In a way, we all long for freedom.  Freedom from some form of restriction, some sort of pressure, mandate or expectation that we believe is holding us back.  The desire to break ourselves free from these restrictions, allowing ourselves to reach our true potential, or obtain a new level of self-awareness is ingrained in our culture.  Tales of striving for greater freedom can be found peppered throughout our literature, movies and music.  It is the underlying theme of the story of this nation, from overthrowing monarchy to westward expansion, ending slavery, and later the open road.  One could even view the baby boomer obsession with large suburban homes and the millennial obsession with authenticity and acceptance of individual preferences as simply the most recent chapters of a freedom themed cultural progression.

Cars have always been symbolic of freedom.  The mass production of automobiles in the early 20th Century made it possible for the average person to travel over large distances at the time of their own choosing.  Those who purchased an automobile were no longer subject to train schedules when making trips both short and long.

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“The Open Road” meant people now have the freedom to go when they want to go, where they want to go, and change their mind whenever they’d like.

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At the High Plains Raceway, this freedom is celebrated, and, well cranked up a notch.  Here, in a world where access to automobiles is now nearly universal, drivers free themselves of the few restrictions that remain.  For most, this primarily refers to the speed limit.  Here, for all practical purposes, there are no rules (in reality, there are a few for safety purposes, but they mainly revolve around how to conduct oneself in the event of an incident like a crash or a gasoline spill).  There is just how fast one can take the turns that make up the race course.

The feeling of having one of these inhibiting restrictions lifted, whether permanent or temporary, is hard to describe.  It’s joyous, almost in a jubilant manner.  It’s reassuring, anxious, and exhilarating at the same time.  I often equate it to a cyclist suddenly no longer having their brakes unnecessarily engaged while trying to pedal, or a runner no longer having 10 pound weights tied around their ankles.  Everything just suddenly feels like it is moving faster, and flowing more smoothly.

But, there is some level of risk one takes by coming to a facility like this.  Upon entry, every person, even guests who do not intend to drive a vehicle at all, must sign waivers, accepting the risks they take.  This includes understanding that there are dangers, both to life and property.  Crashes at high speeds can do damage to one’s life and limb in situations like these.  And, some of the vehicles at this raceway are valued at upwards of half a million dollars, assets that could be permanently lost when accidents render the vehicles irreparable (I am told that standard automobile insurance does not apply while on race tracks like this).

For these reasons, many will probably choose never to take part in this activity.  This is the case with many activities of this nature, from something as major as starting a new business to something as minor as stealing two sips of vodka from one’s parent’s liquor cabinet at the age of 15.  Some of us dive into the activity without thinking.  Some of us will shy away, and avoid the risk.

We all want freedom.  But, we all also want security.  Most of us also desire equality, justice, or some sense of “fairness”.  Most of our sociological conflicts come about when these desires are pitted against one another.  In this year’s presidential election, Americans have largely been denied a true discussion about what our priorities are, in this realm, and how they should be met.  But, that does not mean that determining how to free ourselves from our limitations, and how to prioritize this desire with other desires is not part of our lives every day, manifesting in the decisions we make and interactions we have.

Experiencing a Different Way of Life

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Most of the time, when we travel, we are touring.  We are visiting places.  We are going to specific destinations.  We are seeing landmarks, or specific points of interest.  Or we are going somewhere to take part in a certain event or activity.

Sometimes, we will speculate as to what it is like to live in a specific area.  Maybe we will even interact with some locals, and ask some questions.  But, even then, in a way, we are still touring.  We are getting some amount of information regarding what day-to-day life is like, but we are really only getting a snapshot of a specific point in time, and some verbal information about what may make that point different from typical day-to-day experience.

Sometimes, when we travel specifically to visit people, people we know, we get a little more of a window into what life is like in a different place.  For me, a metropolitan person, who has always lived in a city or suburban area, most of these kinds of trips involve traveling to a different city, or a suburb of a different city.  While each city, metropolitan area, and region are unique from one another, there are still some basic similarities.  I have a clear understanding of the differences between life in New York, Houston, Denver etc.  But, I also understand that there are many similarities that make life in all those places distinct from life in a more sparsely populated area.

Nederland, Colorado is not too far from home for me.  Nor is it your typical small town U.S.A.  Positioned along the scenic Peak to Peak Highway, at 8200 feet elevation, and only about 40 minutes West of Boulder, it falls into the category of one of those quirky types of small towns.

This weekend turned out to be a unique experience for me.  Sometimes when we visit people, we don’t really experience their typical life.  There’s a specific event, or destination, and, in a way we all become tourists.  This weekend, that did not happen.  I ended up genuinely feeling as if I had spent some time in the day-to-day life those that live here!

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The first, and most obvious difference living here is how we get around.  To me, getting anywhere, whether it be between neighborhoods or to the center of town, involved what resembled a short hike to me.  There was no driving, Ubers, light rail, or busses, just walking along a series of trails that felt, and also typically smelled as if I were on a camping trip.

I also began to notice, and even feel, a difference in energy.  Things feel calmer, less urgent, less competitive.  This, of course, is both good and bad.  The good is the ability to relax, not feel like you are competing with everyone you see, and take time to enjoy some of the things around you.  The flip side is that lines move slower, people move slower, and most things take a little longer.  Even while enjoying the reprieve from the stress of everyday life, I recognized that, given that I wish Denver were faster moving than it is, I could never permanently move to a place like this.  I did however, fully immerse myself in the experience while I was here.

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The strangest thing that happened was finally getting a good understanding of a different perspective on a common conflict.  The center of town was packed with what many people refer to as “leafers”.  These are people who drive from the city to some nearby forested area to see fall colors.  Living in Denver, I am technically one of them, as I had been nearly every year.

Immersed in the Nederland experience, I experienced this from the other side.  Feeling the frustration of people dealing with things they don’t normally have to deal with, like waiting for a table at their favorite restaurant, traffic jammed up on all of the main roads, and a significant number of people in the lake, I began to understand why people who live in places like this don’t immediately calculate the benefits of tourism on their local economy on days like this.

This month, and for the remainder of 2016, one of my goals is to try harder to see things from the perspective of others.  I just feel like a lot of things in my life, whether it be putting together a presentation with specific audience in mind, or interactions with people, will go a lot more smoothly if I genuinely make an effort to understand them from the perspective of others.

Travel has, once again, taught me a valuable lesson.  To fully immerse myself in this experience, I had to, in a way, let go, of what I know, what I expect, and even what I want.  If more of us, both in our travels, and in our day-to-day lives were to approach people, experiences, and issues, with much of this pre-concpetion taken out of our minds, we would likely have a more positive impact on the lives of one another.  This doesn’t necessarily mean giving up on what we believe in, especially strongly held conviction.  It means taking them out of our mind, for at the very least a few minutes, to hear what others have to say, and feel what others feel.