Monday, July 31, 2023

A Juicy Start to the Week

A few people have commented to me that it feels a little "sticky" today.  Of course, that's a Utah sticky, which means quite comfortable for anyone from the southeast US.  

Observations from the University of Utah show that the dewpoint climbed steadly from July 29th to today and now sits near 50˚F.  This isn't "unprecedented" this month as we've eclipsed 50 during a couple of prior periods (and even hit 50), but still it is noticeable.  

Looking at just the past 24-hours shows that the dewpoint peaked this morning and has actually dropped back a bit into the upper 40s.  

Nevertheless, this is the beginning of a juicy period through at least Wednesday night and possibly into Thursday.  The GFS forecast below shows a strong monsoon surge pushing into northern Utah tomorrow with enhanced vapor transport (lower right hand panel) coming up the lower Colorado River Valley and into northern Utah from the Gulf of California at 0000 UTC 2 August (6 PM MDT Tuesday).  

That moisture remains resident over the area through Wednesday as a weak short-wave trough moves over the state as shown in the GFS forecast below for 0000 UTC 3 August (6 PM MDT Wednesday).  

Thus, be on the alert for showers and thunderstorms through Wednesday night and possibly Thursday.  

Thursday, July 27, 2023

The J & J Quinney Alpine Meteorological Research Center

Last year, I was sent a photo of Alta Founder Joe Quinney (pictured on the right below) and long-time Alta General Manager Chick Morton in front of a sign for the J & J Quinney Alpine Meteorological Research Center. 

Over the years, I had heard from time to time that the U actually had such a center at Alta, but for the most part knowledge of its existence and use was lost in the sands of time.  

So I decided to contact Ron Perla and see what I could learn.  Ron earned his Ph.D. in Meteorology from the University of Utah in 1971 and I have wanted to talk with him for many years.  He is a legend at Alta and did some remarkable research on avalanches and avalanche safety.  He famously survived a massive avalanche on Mt. Baldy above Alta in the 1960s (featured in this New York Times article from 1981: and working with Ed La Chapelle and others he developed early transceiver prototypes and theories of avalanche slab stress.  He is an honorary member of the American Avalanche Association and a life member of IEEE. 

Ron joined the Alta Ski Patrol in 1961 and was a Snow Ranger from 1966–1971 at the US Forest Service Alta Avalanche Study Center.  In 1971 the Forest Service closed that facility moved the operations to Ft. Collins.  Ron was transferred to Ft. Collins, but he eventually moved to Canmore, Alberta to work with the Canadian Glaciology Division/National Hydrology Research Institute.  More details are at

Ron and I have been exchanging e-mails over the past couple of weeks getting to know each other and the history of the meteorological research center.  His recollection is that Alta had built a new bunkhouse for their workers and the old bunkhouse, which was across the highway from Alta Lodge (and is currently the eastern most building above the Shallow Shaft occupied by the Town of Alta), was donated to the U by Joe and Jessie Quinney probably in the late 1960s.  Hence the J & J Quinney on the sign.

The U assigned control of the center to the Department of Meteorology (now Atmospheric Sciences).  The problem at the time was that the U didn't have a presence in mountain meteorology.  There were no mountain meteorology classes and little research.  Additionally, the building also needed substantial renovations.  The department was not in a position to make good use of it.  

At some point, Warren Ketcham joined the Department of Meteorology faculty at the University of Utah and did some renovations and ice crystal research at the center.  He left, however, after a few years.  

What happens to the center after about 1971 is unclear.  I am not sure if the building was renovated or replaced, but is now used by the Town of Alta.  Good for them, but a real loss of opportunity for my Department.  I could have put the facility to good use and would still be using it today!  

An odd thing about the photo above is the sign says Department of Atmospheric Sciences.  We were the Department of Meteorology then, so I wonder why the discrepancy.  

If you have any additional information or corrections, please share in the comments below or e-mail me.  It's an interesting historical story for my department and we are currently celebrating our 75th anniversary. 


This post has been updated and edited from the initial version concerning the affiliation and name of Warren Ketcham.  He was incorrectly identified as a University of Washington graduate student.  He was apparently a faculty member at the University of Utah when he worked at the center. 

Monday, July 24, 2023

Yesterday Was Very Hot

Yesterday brought some remarkably warm temperatures to the Salt Lake City area, with little overnight respite. 

The minimum and maximum temperatures at the Salt Lake City Airport (KSLC) were 82 and 104, respectively, yielding an average temperature of 93 degrees.

The minimum of 82 and average temperature of 93 tied all-time records for KSLC.  The 104 ties the record for the date, but falls short of the all-time record of 107.  

The day was also exceptional at the Bountiful Bench site, which I like to use since the record there is continuous since the mid 1970s and the site characteristics seem to be relatively stable.  There, the average temperature for the day, 89.5, was an all-time high.

And the minimum, 81, tied the all-time high (set on 3 other days). 

Like KSLC, the maximum, 98, set a record for the day, but wasn't all time (the all time there is 100).  

Setting all-times for minimum and average but not quite reaching all-time for maximum likely reflects the warmth of the airmass combined with partial mid-level cloud cover.  Minimum temperatures are more sensitive to partial cloud cover than maximum temperatures.  Minimums stay very elevated, but maximums are cut just a bit.  

It was quite warm last night too.  The minimum through 6 AM at KSLC was 82, although it may have dipped a degree or two below that shortly after that (minimum and maximum temperatures can occur between observation times and are only reported every six hours).  

July is most definitely a four-letter word.

Thursday, July 20, 2023

Phoenix on Phire

Phoenix has had a long and miserable run of heat so far this month.  They are currently up to 20 consecutive days with a maximum temperature of 110˚F or higher, which is a new record.  


Not surprisingly, the 20-day average maximum temperature is also the highest on record.

And similarly the average temperature for the period (I haven't bothered to look at where the average minimum ranks).

Yesterday's high of 119˚F tied the 4th highest of all time.  

The NWS grid-point forecast for Sky Harbor airport shows little hope for relief.  Forecast highs for the next week are 119, 119, 116, 115, 114, 115, and 115.

Accessed 6:55 AM MDT 20 July 2023

Monsoon showers and thunderstorms during this period look to remain spotty.  There is always the hope that something pops up in the right place and right time to clip the temps below 110˚F, but that's not a highly likely scenario.  

Heat is the leading weather-related cause of death in the United States.  According to the Arizona Republic, there have been 18 confirmed heat caused or related deaths in Maricopa County so far this year with another 69 under investigation.  About a third of those were homeless.  Access to air conditioning is critical.  A prolonged power outage would be a serious threat to many, especially the elderly.  

Thursday, July 13, 2023

About that Gondola

Yesterday, UDOT announced that it is moving forward with the Gondola Alternative B plans for transportation in Little Cottonwood Canyon.  A full summary of their Record of Decision is available at

The Gondola Alternative B plan involves several components, which UDOT is now planning to implement in phases following the timeline below. 

If my understanding of recent legislative appropriations and UDOT's plans are correct (and you should correct me if I'm wrong), UDOT has a commitment for the process through the Phase 1 Implementation, which is scheduled to be completed in Fall 2025, and would improve and increase bus service, add a mobility hub at the gravel pit near the mouth of Big Cottonwood Canyon, add bus stops at Snowbird and Alta, add tolling above the White Pine Parking lot, and impose parking restrictions along SR-210 near Snowbird and Alta.  

The mobility hub would be accessed by southbound traffic via an underpass much like a highway exchange.  It would hold 1,500 vehicles.  Bus service frequency would be every 10-15 minutes, assuming they get drivers.  I'm curious what will happen with the gravel pit.  Is it being shut down and the land reclaimed?  Will it still be operating? The dust would be a disincentive for using the lot.

A major shortcoming of these plans is that there does not appear to be any bus stops at trailheads like White Pine.  The situation at White Pine, the primary access point for the vast Lone Peak Wilderness and White Pine Canyon, is deplorable.  It is a heavily used trailhead with very limited parking.  A bus stop here would be extremely impactful, although this would require some infrastructure upgrades to provide space for safe bus service.  The UDOT alternatives do include parking lot expansions (White Pine would go to 144 spaces), but a bus stop would make more sense.  Yes, this would increase transit time to the resorts by perhaps a minute or two, but in any sane transit system that I've ridden in Europe, there would be stops at trailheads and these would be prioritized over parking lot expansion.  

It is in Phase 2 that the White Pine (as well as Gate Buttress, Bridge, and Lisa Falls) trailhead lots would be built, expanded, or improved.  There is currently no funding available for this, so the challenges at White Pine look to continue for some time.  Also in Phase 2, snow sheds would be built across the White Pine Chutes, White Pine, and Little Pine avalanche paths.  My view is that properly built and landscaped snow sheds are less of a blight than the current road cut (and far safer), so I am supportive of this.  

For the most part, the above plans seem reasonable, although in Phase 2 there is also expansion of Wasatch Boulevard.  I feel the need to defer to those who live in that area with regards to those plans.  

Finally we have the gondola.  The original gondola plan (alternative A) had a base station starting at the Little Cottonwood Park and Ride Lot.  This one, announced a couple of years ago, begins at La Caille.  Per the fact sheet below, the gondola capital costs appear to be estimated at $370.5 million (the $729 million is for the entire alternative, although who knows where these numbers will end up).  From the gondola base it will take 27 minutes to travel from La Caille to Snowbird and an additional 10 minutes to get to Alta.  A structure with 2500 parking spaces would be built at the base.  

Incredibly, there are no plans for loading or unloading at the angle staton.  If this gondola were built, that strikes me as a major oversight as there would be enormous potential for this angle station to serve as a recreational access point if some trail construction is done to link with the Red Pine Lake trail on the Pink Pine Ridge.  It would also enable point-to-point hikes in the lower canyon and between the angle station and Snowbird.  

Once built, bus service up Little Cottonwood would be terminated.  There would be no public transit options to access anything below Snowbird.  

I didn't see a timeline for Phase 2 or 3 in UDOTs documents, but I could have missed it.  Without funding, it's probably difficult to firm that up anyway.  The Salt Lake Tribune suggested that the Wasatch Front Regional Council estimated that the gondola might not be complete until 2043–2050.  Salt Lake County Mayor Jenny Wilson suggested 25 years.  Insert your guess here.  

I am personally opposed to the gondola.  My views on this are complex and multifaceted.  I would say that the majority of my friends are either opposed or skeptical, but there are some who are supportive.  I suspect we are looking at many years of debate and lawsuits.  Built or not built, I don't see this ending well.  More people are moving here and the demand to ski in upper-elevation north-facing terrain is only going to increase as climate change impacts the lower-elevation snow climate more severely.  

Tuesday, July 11, 2023

Northeast Deluge

Chances are you've seen some of the footage of the remarkable flooding in the northeast the past couple of days.  

We will focus here on the Adirondack Mountains of New York and the Green Mountains of Vermont.  The National Weather Service Burlington Forecast Office produced a map earlier today of the storm total precipitation for their forecast area, which extends across northern New York.  The event featured impressive enhancement over the Green Mountains and portions of the Adirondacks.  In the case of the Greens, a broad area of more than 5" fell including more than 9" in Plymouth just to the south of Killington along Route 100.  In the Adirondacks, more than 5" fell in Newcomb.  

Flooding, mudslides, and washed out roads have occurred in many areas.  Below is drone footage from yesterday in Montpelier, which was posted by The Weather Channel.

Extensive damage is also being reported in the Long Lake, Blue Mountain Lake, and Newcomb area of the Adirondacks.  I've traveled through this area hundreds of times (that's not an exaggeration).  So hard to see.  

Monday, July 10, 2023

July Is a Four-Letter Word

July.  I'm not a fan.  At least in Utah.  

I hear a lot of people saying it hasn't been too bad so far.  I think that perspective is strongly skewed by the intense heat of last summer.  

For the first 9 days of this July had an average temperature of 81.8˚F at the Salt Lake City International Airport.  That's an incredible 5.9˚F cooler than the first 9 days of last July.  However, let's put it into context.  

Temperatures in Salt Lake City have climbed markedly in recent decades.  Prior to 1973, there were no years in which the average temperature for July 1–9 was above 80˚F.  

Since then, there have been 20.  This year's 81.8˚F ranks as 11th all time.  The average maximum temperature (95.1˚F) rates as 16th all time and the average minimum temperature (68.4˚F) rates as 10th all time. 

I see lots of comments about how this is urban heat island as if this changes anything.  Yes, the warming trend in Salt Lake City reflects both global warming and urbanization, but this is still the climate those of us who live here experience. 

Forecasts for the next 10 days show a very typical July pattern with a weak storm track to our north, broad upper-level ridging over the southwest, and showers and thunderstorms most active over northwest Mexico and southern Arizona and New Mexico with a few spits and spurts at times over Utah.  An example is the GFS forecast valid 0600 UTC Monday 17 July.  

Here's a look at the monotony that is the 10-day forecast generated for Salt Lake City by the National Blend of Models (NBM).  Yawn.  

At least the humidity is low, making swamp coolers effective sunrise rides tolerable.
This morning's sunrise from the 19th Avenue Flow Trail

Tuesday, July 4, 2023

Status of the Great Salt Lake

Several media outlets are reporting this week that the Great Salt Lake appears to have crested for the summer.  For example, the Salt Lake Tribune reported today that the lake entered the week at 4,193.8 feet elevation at the Great Salt Lake State Park Marina, which is 3.5 feet higher than last year at this time and 5 feet above the record low in November.  

That is of course good news.  However, it is somewhat misleading.  A rock-fill causeway has divided the lake for decades.  Essentially, the Great Salt Lake is two lakes, and that is especially true today because the berm in the causeway between the north and south arms of the lake was raised in February.  Most of the freshwater inflow to the lake enters the south half, so this has helped to lower the salinity in the south arm (important for brine shrimp), but it has also enabled the south arm to rise more rapidly since the flow to the north arm has been reduced.  

We can see this in lake-elevation data collected by the USGS.  At Saltair in the south arm, the lake elevation currently sits at 4193.9 feet, which is more than 5 feet higher than last November.

Source: USGS

However, at Saline in the north arm, the lake elevation currently sits at 4189.4 feet, 4.5 feet lower than in the south arm.  Lake levels have only climbed about a foot over where they were last fall and winter (note scale change).  

This contrast can be seen in Landsat imagery from last week.  Note how coverage of water to the south of the causeway, which extends westward from the southern tip of Promontory Point, is greater than to the north side.  This is especially noticeable on the west shore.  Note also that the coverage of water has improved quite a bit, although there is still considerable lake-bed exposed in the Farmington Bay area immediately north of Salt Lake City.  


From an ecosystem management perspective and perhaps local dust sources, there are good reasons to have captured most of the water in the south arm.  It is possible that if the lake continues to remain low, that a decision may eventually be made to let the north arm whither and focus on saving the south arm (there are also disadvantages to doing this).  

That said, I'm not a fan of using the Saltair elevation in isolation as a measure of lake changes.  It only tells half the story (perhaps a bit more than half since the south arm is larger than the north arm).  We are very fortunate to have had a big snowpack this year, but my view is that the lake is still in critical condition and the elevation of the south arm paints a picture that is rosier than reality.  

Monday, July 3, 2023

Blogging Returns

After a one month hiatus, I returned to Utah over the weekend and am back in the office this morning.

The past month I was in Europe for a trip that was about 1/3 work and 2/3 vacation, although even the former was enjoyable and involved spending a week in St. Gallen, Switzerland for the International Conference on Alpine Meteorology and a couple of days at the University of Innsbruck.  

Our trip began in Normandy, France, which was much prettier than expected, especially along the English Channel.

A popular spot to visit is Mont Saint Michel, which you may recognize from the picture below.  Places like this are overwhelmed with tourists, so we tend to visit early or late in the day.  This summer marks 1,000 years since construction at this site began.  1,000 years!  Despite the crowds, I always find touring through places like this very interesting.  

We also spent an afternoon in Saint Malo just a bit down the road.  The so-called "walled city" was known for it's pirates.  It was heavily bombed by the Allies during World War II and 80% destroyed.  It has been rebuilt in spectacular fashion.  

We then abandoned the automobile and raced across France on the TGV (Train à Grand Vitesse) at speeds reaching almost 200 miles per hour.  We covered much of the distance from Paris to Chamonix in about 2 hours before switching to a slower regional train.   It's a shame that the US can't seem to figure out how to make such a system work.  

This was our first trip to Chamonix.  I debated for a while whether to cancel this part of the trip and opt for something else as the weather forecast looked quite unsettled.  Indeed, we dealt with a decent amount of clouds, but there were enough breaks to make the trip enjoyable.  

No visit to Chamonix is complete without a trip up the Aiguille du Midi.  This peak on the side of Mt. Blanc is 12,605 ft high and is served by a series of two cable cars that rise 9,209 feet above Chamonix.  

The weather wasn't ideal, but Mont Blanc was visible, as well as the upper Mer de Glace, an enormous glacier that is skied during the Vallée Blanche ski descent.  

It's nearly impossible to have any sense of scale in Chamonix based strictly on your eyes.  Everywhere you look there's thousands of feet of relief (in some cases more than 10,000 feet of relief) that looks like a short ski tour.  

It's a good thing we were hiking. One of the things I love about the Alps is the ability to use public transit and cable cars to do point-to-point hikes.  One day we hiked the Grand Balcon Sud from the top of the Flégere cable car above Les Praz to the Plan Praz cable car above Chamonix.  Much of the hike, we were mesmerized by the Mont Blanc massif.  

We also visited Montenvers which is accessed by train and where you can hike down to the lower Mer de Glace.  Here, the tremendous glacier change over recent decades is very apparent.  

Some people online commented that in part the glacier retreat is due to the emergence from the Little Ice Age.  If one is looking at longer time periods, that's true, but since 1990, a majority of the glacier loss, which is accelerating, is due to human factors.  

We then skipped over to Zermatt, which was another first for us.  This may be sacrilege to say, but I confess that I wasn't a fan of Zermatt the village.  However, the Matterhorn is definitely mesmerizing and I couldn't take my eyes off it either in town or when we were hiking.  I could watch the development and evolution of the famed banner cloud, which forms on the downstream or lee side, all day.  

The trip up the railroad to Gornergrat is expensive, but the views of the Monte Rosa massif are truly spectacular.  

You can use the railroad to enable some great hiking above 2000 meters with incredible views in all directions (this can also save some Swiss Francs).  

We then moved to St. Gallen for my meeting, but arrived a day early to hike in the Appenzeller Alps, which like on the northern Alpine Rim.  A train and bus ride take you to EbenAlp where you can opt for valley and ridge hikes, including along the Alpstein Massif pictured below.  

The highest peak of the Alpstein Massif is Säntis, which is just center right on the horizon in the picture above.  Although "only" about 2500 meters high, Säntis has more than 2000 meters of topographic prominence, which is #13 in the Alps.  It is a famous location meteorologically as a weather station began operating there in 1882, it is a magnet for lightning, and is known for heavy snowfall.  I don't know how they measure at the summit (we visited as part of my conference), but the 1991–2020 average snowfall was 1003 cm (395 inches).  

Our trip concluded in Innsbruck.  The Austrian Alps remain my favorite. I love the hiking and the culture.  We did three great hikes.  The first was on the ridge immediately south of Innsbruck and the Inn Valley from the Patscherkofel cable car to the summit of Glungezer.  

The second, was along the Goetheweg on the Nordkette ridge south of Innsbruck.  

I think the Goetheweg hike is my all-time favorite.  We've done it three times and I would do it tomorrow if I could. 

Finally, we spent a day hiking on the Rofan Massif east of Innsbruck, summiting the Rofanspitze (pictured below) and the Spieljoch.  

This was a dream trip for us and we recognize how lucky we are.  We were in Normandy on June 6, the anniversary of D-Day, and visited the landing beaches and monuments.  On D-Day, Company of the 116th regiment was the first ashore at Omaha Beach and took 90% casualties.  The US spearheaded invasions at Omaha and Utah beach that day and the Normandy American Cemetery is the resting place for more than 9,000 heroes who gave their lives to defeat Nazism and Fascism.  Others rest closer to home in the United States.

The British and Canadian militaries invaded three other beaches, with contributions for the D-Day landings from 18 other countries.  We can all be grateful that Hitler's "Atlantic Wall" fell that day, marking the beginning of the end of an awful period in human history that resulted in tens of millions of military and civilian casualties.  Thanks to the sacrifices of the Greatest Generation we enjoy our freedom today.