Cool mountains ain’t so cool | AspenTimes.com

Cool mountains ain’t so cool

Brent Gardner-SmithAspen Times Staff Writer

It’s definitely been hotter than normal this summer in Aspen, but so far the record high temperature of 93 degrees on June 23, 1954, still stands. According to the Western Regional Climate Center in Reno, Nev., Aspen has seen two 91-degree days this month, one on July 10 and another on July 14. “No high temperature records have been broken, but the average temperature is hotter than normal,” said Michelle Chambers, an assistant climatologist with the WRCC. Indeed, this June and, so far, July have been two of the hottest overall months ever in Aspen. The average high temperature recorded for June, 2002, was 81.3 degrees. The previous hottest June was in 1994, when the average high temperature for the month was 76.77. So far this July, the average daily high has been 87.5 degrees. That is on track to top July, 1988, which had an average daily high of 81.13 degrees. “We are under a big ridge of high pressure that has been anchored over western Colorado,” said Joe Ramey, a forecaster with the National Weather Service in Grand Junction. “We’ve been above normal since the 17th of June. And records are falling all across western Colorado and eastern Utah.” On Monday, Steamboat Springs set a new record high of 96, breaking the old record of 95 degrees set in 1934. And in Rangely, it hit 103 degrees, breaking the prior record of 100 degrees set in 1955. And Tuesday’s 100-degree heat in Grand Junction tied three different records for triple-digit heat. July 16 marked 10 days in a row of temperatures of 100 or more in Grand Junction, which last happened in the summer of 1990. It also tied the record, at 12, of the most days in a single month over 100 degrees. The last time that happened was in July 1901. And it tied the record for the most number of days in a single year of 100 degrees or more, at 17, which last happened in 1994. The record high temperature for Grand Junction is 105 degrees and the mercury has been flirting with that all summer, but has yet to break it, despite both last Saturday and Sunday hitting the 105-degree mark. “2002 is definitely going to go down as one of the hottest years on record,” said Ramey. And it has been both hot and dry. “We’re also setting some records for lack of precipitation,” said Doug Baugh, a weather technician with the NWS in Grand Junction. “Last month we tied for the ninth-warmest June on record and tied for the ninth driest, so they go hand in hand.” There is some cooler weather now coming up from the Gulf of Mexico, as part of the summer “monsoon” season, but so far the clouds and moisture are staying to the west of Colorado. “We are currently in a monsoon flow – it is just not in Colorado,” said Baugh. “It is to the west and we need it to shift, and then we will be in it.” And while many people traditionally head to mountain towns like Aspen to cool off, this summer they have been met with hotter-than-expected days. “When you are getting mountain stations in the upper 80s and the low 90s, that’s pretty hot for those elevations,” said Baugh. “It will be one of those years we will look back on in the history books.” What’s causing the heat wave, beside the stubborn ridge of high pressure? Some forecasters are more comfortable than others in pointing to global warming. “There is a lot of scientific argument to support global warming,” Baugh said. “It’s been hotter in the last 30 years than in any of the prior 30-year segments,” Ramey said. [Brent Gardner-Smith’s e-mail address is bgs@aspentimes.com.]