Record highs in Aspen renew winter climate concerns |

Record highs in Aspen renew winter climate concerns

Karl Herchenroeder
The Aspen Times
Skiers and snowboaders soak up the sun at Merry-Go-Round at Aspen Highlands Monday afternoon. Monday was the fifth straight day of temperatures in the 50s.
Jeanne McGovern/The Aspen Times |

Monday marked the fifth consecutive day of 50-degree temperatures in Aspen, and each of those days set record highs, based on 17 years of National Weather Service data at the Aspen-Pitkin County Airport.

February’s warm spell follows the second driest January since 1935, and a city-commissioned report that claims skiing will cease in Aspen by 2100 if global emissions continue to increase. Similar claims in recent years have prompted Aspen Skiing Co. to ramp up political efforts. In January, the organization recruited Environmental Protection Agency administrator Gina McCarthy to speak at the Winter X Games. In October, company representatives joined the professional athlete-led group Protect Our Winters in lobbying U.S. Congress.

On Tuesday Auden Schendler, Skico vice president of sustainability, said all one has to do to realize the state of the industry is look at California.

“Four years of extreme drought,” he said. “There are more ski areas in California than anywhere in the country. Those businesses are going to start getting agitated and say, ‘Let’s address short-term: How do we address a season? And long-term: How do we prevent runaway climate change.’”

Despite anxiety surrounding climate science,’s lead meteorologist Cory Gates said Aspen will see its most severe winters of all time in the next four to 15 years. He has abandoned hope of this season being anything but below average in snowfall, and he advised against expecting relief in March. But on the broader issue of climate change, he called the Aspen Global Change Institute’s claim that skiing could end in 2100 “the most ridiculous statement on earth.”

The report found that temperatures in Aspen during all seasons have increased since 1940, although precipitation and snowfall have shown an overall increase. Another claim is that Aspen’s temperatures could rise 2.9 degrees by 2039 and 9.7 degrees by 2099 if emission levels don’t improve.

“It just wasn’t our year in the West. Whoop-de-doo,” Gates said. “Climate is (recorded) over hundreds of thousands of years, not just the one year that we’re living here and some moron writes an article. Climate is just an average of the extremes.”

He credited this year’s lack of snow with abnormally warm temperatures in the Pacific Ocean, which has created a high-pressure ridge that buckles in the West, moves north, bypasses Colorado and hammers the Northeast. He regarded this winter as “one extreme example” in a 25-year cycle known as a cold Pacific decadal oscillation. That cycle, he said, began in 2007-08, when Snowmass recorded 450 inches of snowfall, well above the 300-inch average.

“This is just a weird winter, stuck in the middle of what’s normally a cold (Pacific decadal oscillation) cycle,” he said. “It just happens to be super warm off the West Coast. … It’s not that I don’t believe in global warming. Man has intensified what is a cyclical process. So yes, we have added to it.”

Between Thursday and Monday, the National Weather Service reported record highs of 51, 55, 52, 52 and 56, respectively. The organization also recorded the second highest temperature levels Feb. 2 and 3, with respective readings of 42 and 45. Forecaster Julie Malingowski said that these records only encompass 17 years and can’t be used to determine climate normals.

Gates’ partner Ryan Boudreau said he expects temperatures through Monday to be in the upper 40s and lower 50s, but a pattern shift could possibly develop by the middle of next week.

“Is it going to be a game-changing pattern shift?” he asked. “Don’t think so, but it definitely looks better, more optimistic, but we’re not holding our breath.”

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