Billy Barr’s historical records near Crested Butte make him accidental apostle among climate researchers

Jason Blevins
The Denver Post
Billy Barr heads to his work at the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory on his nordic skis on January 9, 2018 in Gothic, Colorado. Each day Barr takes meticulous notes that include the date, temperature, sky conditions, wind direction, new snow at sunrise, new snow at sunset, total snow for the day, snow year to date, total snow pack, snowpack on the ground and any animals or birds seen that day. (Photo by Helen H. Richardson/The Denver Post)
Helen H. Richardson / The Denver Post

GOTHIC — He didn’t mean for it to happen this way. He simply wanted to be alone.

“If I had any social skills at all I wouldn’t be here,” says the reclusive 67-year-old Billy Barr, who has spent the last 46 years in a remote cabin in the snowy woods several miles above Crested Butte. “I’m from inner-city Trenton, N.J., which is pretty funny when you consider the contrast.”

Barr began taking notes in 1974 out of boredom. Every day he would record the low and high temperatures, and measure new snow, snow-water equivalent and snowpack depth. Now he has stacks of yellowed notebooks brimming with a trove of data that has made him an accidental apostle among climate researchers.

“I recorded all this out of a personal interest in the weather. And because I’ve done it for so long, it has some benefit and some value. It wasn’t like I was some sort of forethinker, thinking ‘Oh, I’m going to write all this down and have absolutely no life whatsoever so I can stay here for 50 years,’ ” he says, tugging a gossamer beard dangling to his well-worn cricket sweater.

“Scientifically, my data are good because I had no goals, therefore no one can say ‘Well, you are just taking data to prove a point.’ It’s just numbers. I just wrote them down,” he says. “It’s the same person in the same location doing it in the same method, so even if I did it wrong, I did it wrong every single day for 44 years.”

He doesn’t necessarily analyze his data. But he’s seeing a trend: It’s getting warmer. The snow arrives later and leaves earlier.

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