Saturday, April 25, 2015

The Last Dump of the Season

The skiing wasn't half bad this morning as the cream-on-crust skied pretty well despite the fact that it only added up to about 7 inches in the upper elevations and far less in the lower elevations.  It was nice to see white snow again, although the snirt was very quickly starting to appear in tracked areas by noon.

I've lived long enough in Utah to know that we can get some freshies nearly any time of year and I've seen some good dumps in May and even early June.  Even if that happens this year, the snow we get tonight will be, for all intents and purposes, the last dump of the season.  

I suspect that something in the 4-8 inch range is the most likely scenario for accumulations in upper Little Cottonwood through 9 am tomorrow, with a modest chance we'll do better than that.  With an early start, the high altitude (>9500-10000 ft) north aspect ski touring might be decent tomorrow as the snow should be right-side up and falling on what we got last night.  

Friday, April 24, 2015

Dr. Seuss on Western Hydroclimate

Snow remains in the forecast and hopefully we'll have some white stuff this weekend for Alta's closing day #2, to help Snowbird extend their season, and perhaps to give us an extra week or so of white corn in the backcountry.  However, I have something more entertaining to share than a discussion of the weekend forecast.

Jeff Lukas is a research scientist with the Western Water Assessment.  He recently presented a Dr. Seuss inspired summary of recent and future climate and water trends for Colorado that has gone viral amongst my colleagues.  It's worth a 5 minute look and does an excellent job summarizing current knowledge of our changing hydroclimate.

Although emphasizing Colorado and the recently completed report, Climate Change in Colorado, it is quite applicable to Utah.  

Thursday, April 23, 2015

The Winter That Wouldn't Start Now Won't End

I had what I thought was a great last ski day of the year last weekend.  With warm weather on tap for this week and a layer of dusty snow not buried far below the surface, I figured that we'd be skiing nothing but snirt by this weekend.

I'm now thinking that I will be doing some skiing this weekend.  The models are advertising the passage of two troughs, the first late Friday

and the second late Saturday.

These look to be fairly warm systems bringing mountain snow and valley rain through Saturday, with somewhat cooler air moving in for Sunday, although even then current forecasts suggest snow levels at or above bench level.  Given the warmth of the storm, expect heavy, near-Cascadian snow that may become somewhat drier on Sunday.

Nevertheless it's white.  Our downscaled ensemble forecast plumes show the two periods of heavier precipitation with a mean water equivalent after subtracting off the showery stuff today and early tomorrow of about 1.5 inches with a range of about .75 to 2 inches for the bulk of the ensemble members (some go for higher, but that's a lower probability outcome).

We'll have to see how all this comes together, but fresh snow for the weekend looks likely. 

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

How I Told Commuter Services to Stick It

"Good intentions score big, good actions score bigger"
–Mark Fischetti, Scientific American
Yesterday, in honor of Earth Day, I did something I've been dying to do for some time.

I told Commuter Services to stick it!

Actually, that's an over statement.  I called them up and politely cancelled my parking pass.  Although Earth Day provided some motivation, the cancellation was the result of several factors, not all environmental.  Depending on your situation, you might be able to do it too.  Skip to item 4 if you don't want the back story.

I've always been a multimode commuter.  For many years this involved biking in the summers and driving in the winters.  I was never a bus fan primarily because I found it so inconvenient, but circumstances have changed and the bus has become my primary mode of commuting.  Here's why.

1. The development of smart phones and bus-tracking apps.  I no longer waste time at the bus stop.  I get ready to go to work, fire up a bus tracking app (I use UTA tracker), and then do something productive until the bus is a couple blocks away.  During the winter, I don't stand outside freezing.

2. Campus construction.  Have you driven to campus lately?  It's an unmitigated disaster!  New buildings going up everywhere.  Parking lots torn up left and right.  My bus stop is actually a couple of minutes closer to my office than any of the available lots and, if the close ones are full, it's five minutes closer.  The bottom line here is that items 1 and 2 make the bus is almost as fast as driving, although I have a short commute and a fairly reliable bus line.

3. The Northwest Parking Garage.  This is the 350 stall monstrosity that they are constructing on 100 South just west of the Sutton Building.

The U talks a pretty good game about sustainability, but we have a long ways to go until we are committed to a less car-intensive future.  My disgust with this project has made it even easier not to drive to campus.  Further, if I want to park in the garage when it's done, I have to upgrade to a $870 T permit.  Nada.  Not going to happen.  I guess that's one way to financially incentivize the use of mass transit, but it's a pity they couldn't do it without building the garage.

4. The availability of day passes.  Nearly all of us need to drive to campus from time to time.  Encouraging more mixed-mode commuting is one way to reduce the demand for parking and traffic on campus and Commuter Services now has a day parking pass option on its web site!  I don't know when this appeared and it's very hard to find.  In fact, it doesn't appear explicitly under the "Parking on Campus" drop down menu on their main page, on the Parking Permits FAQ page, on the Faculty/Staff Permits Page, or on the Student Permits Page.   Basically, if you don't know about this option, you have no hope of finding it.  Call me paranoid, but one has to wonder if they really want to promote it.

In any event, here's what you need to do.  Go to their online parking portal and click on "purchase permits."  Login and keep boring into the pages.  Eventually you'll get to a page entitled "select permit and permit agreement" and lo-and-behold, there they are.  Half and full day rates.  Sweet!

I haven't actually tried to day park in this way yet, so I don't know how well it will work in practice, but financially this is a great option for a mixed-mode commuter like me.  An A-Pass for a faculty member costs $414 a year.  At the $10/day A-lot rate, that's 41 days of parking a year.  I don't come anywhere near that right now.  Alternatively, the daily U-lot rate is only $5 and that's probably what I'm going to do while I experiment with this daily parking approach.  Of course, an annual U-Pass is only $115 (23 days of parking) and maybe that would be easier for convenience, although available U spaces are usually far from my office and the days I drive I often need to get on and off campus quickly.

Bottom Line
If you are or are considering mixed mode commuting with only infrequent parking on campus, temporary full and half day passes are available on the commuter services web site.  You may be able to axe your parking pass.

Unfortunately, it's not immediately obvious how to do this on the Commuter Services web site and the need to login to a web page and buy a permit each time seems overly cumbersome.  What is ultimately needed is either a smart-phone app that one can just tap once or twice to buy the permit upon arriving on campus OR a system in which you sign up and their automated license plate scanning system simply dings you everytime it scans your plate.  

For students, I'm not sure what's available, but think you are constrained to the $115 U permit, so your savings going this route might be minimal unless you drive very infrequently.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Smoke from Russian Fires

A somewhat smoky/dusty sunrise of the Salt Lake Valley this morning
Several days ago, wildfires set by Russian farmers in preparation of spring planting raged out of control, killing 23 and leaving more than 5,000 homeless.  It was a terrible catastrophe.

Smoke from these fires, along with perhaps some Asian dust, has since spread across the Pacific.

Source: NASA
And is currently draped across portions of the western U.S.  Below is an image from MODIS from yesterday.  The smoke is easiest to see against the dark background of Pacific Northwest fires west of the Cascade Crest.  

Here's an image showing the estimated aerosol optical depth.   Warmer colors indicate higher aerosol concentrations.  

Evidence of the smoke can also be seen in air quality observations, which show a gradual upward trend in PM2.5 over the past two days.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Closing Day (#1)

It was the first closing day of the season at Alta today.  Although the freshies are gone, the turns were quite good and you could carve a hell of a trench for much of the afternoon.

As usual, costumes and revelry prevailed for the day.

Special thanks to this dude for throwing in some old-school air and for keeping his clothes on.

Snirty snow is already making an appearance in wind scoured and sun exposed areas.  A brown spring is in our future.

There was something in the air throughout the day obscuring the views.  I was wondering if it was smoke from the Siberian fires.  Perhaps one of you out there can take a look and comment.

Now is a good time to say thanks to all the avy pros, patrollers, snowmakers, groomers, and lifties for their exceptional efforts this difficult snow year.