Feel warmer this spring?
It’s not your imagination. March has been unusually balmy thisyear in Aspen. Is winter over? Probably not, say people in the know about weather.But, judging from the figures kept by the Aspen Water Department,it has actually been a bit warmer than normal lately.Aspen’s average mean temperature for this month, through the 22nd,is 36.7 degrees Fahrenheit. The average mean temperature for the29-year period from 1951 to 1980, provided by the National Oceanicand Atmospheric Administration in Boulder, is 29 degrees.The average mean temperature is simply the sum of each day’s highand low temperatures divided by the number of temperature readings.March had two days with high temperatures of 60 degrees or moreand 13 days with highs in the 50s.Nolan Doesken, assistant state climatologist with the ColoradoClimate Center in Fort Collins, said on a statewide basis, Coloradohas had one of the warmest January-through-March periods sincerecords have been kept. Figures from the Colorado Climate Centershow that average mean temperatures for those months have generallybeen rising since the 1950s. But veteran local weather watcher Jim Markalunas said this Marchis not really out of the ordinary.”This is not unusual for March. We’ve had warm Marches like thisbefore,” Markalunas said. He warns that the warm and dry conditionsprobably won’t hold. “The old-timers had a saying: `When springcomes early, winter will return later,'” Markalunas said.Markalunas said this winter has featured more extreme temperaturesthan last – cold as well as warm.Independent meteorologist Greg Berman of Boulder said temperaturesthis winter have tracked about three to five degrees above normal,but he wouldn’t call it a warm winter. Mid-December to mid-January,Berman noted, was a cold period.”It’s been a little above normal, but we still have a chunk ofMarch and April to go,” Berman said. Snow is not out of the questionyet. In fact, Berman’s forecast includes colder temperatures andsnow for mid-week.”I think over the next month we’re gonna get back on the stormtrack,” Berman said.That should be good news for skiers who are finding the snow covera bit thin or slushy at the bottom of local mountains. Still,Rose Abello, director of communications for the Aspen Skiing Co.,doesn’t anticipate any problems from the warm temperatures atthis time.”Right now the mountains are skiing well,” Abello said. “I thinka lot of our guests are enjoying our [warm] weather.” She saidthe Skico doesn’t have any plans to download skiers on lifts orthe gondola, and there are no plans to close any of the mountainsearly.Buttermilk Mountain and Aspen Highlands are scheduled to closeon April 4, Snowmass on April 11 and Aspen Mountain on April 18.Abello said in accordance with Skico policy, snowboarding willbe allowed on Aspen Mountain from April 12-18 because it willbe the only ski area remaining open.Runoff slightly up alreadyWarmer winter weather and premature melting of the snowpack canaffect the runoff. While the snowpack remained only slightly belowaverage in the Colorado River basin at the end of February, figuresprovided by the Colorado Division of Water Resources showed theColorado River with a slightly above average flow for this timeof year. At the gaging station at Dotsero, the Colorado Riveraveraged 993 cubic feet per second, compared to the long-termaverage of 971 cfs.The increased flow may result from melting of the snowpack atlower elevations, Mike Gillespie, snow survey supervisor for theU.S. government’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, guesses.”I would say that’s a result of the higher-than-normal temperatureswe’ve been seeing,” he said.Climatologist Doesken is reluctant to speculate on the significanceof the rise in temperature. Records from the Climate Center showthat Aspen’s yearly average temperatures have not risen significantly,he said, because some late summer and autumn months are gettingslightly cooler.One trend that might be meaningful, though, is the differencebetween the summer highs and lows. Summer nighttime temperaturesin Colorado are going up, while daytime temperatures are not.”That’s consistent with what you’d expect from greenhouse gases,”Doesken said. It’s also what would be expected with increasingcloud cover – a Colorado trend since the early 1950s, he said.
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Had Hailey Swirbul decided against going to Europe, she would not have finished with a career-best result in Friday’s World Cup opener. Yes, there was a time, and not long ago, when the U.S. ski team member and Roaring Fork Valley native questioned her desire to put on a race bib.