Sunday, October 28, 2012

Hurricane Sandy

Sandy at noon mountain time on Sunday
The front range got our first significant snow this week after a dusting a while back.  I think I got about 5 inches at my house.  This same system is headed to the northeast towards southeastern Canada, and the cold air mass reaching down behind it is the cold air mass on the west side of Frankenstorm, also known as Hurricane Sandy.  Weather models are calling for Hurricane Sandy to make landfall in New Jersey Monday evening.  The hurricane has taken on extra-tropical properties as it approached the cold air mass left by this Colorado snow system.  The heavily populated upper east coast is going to be greatly affected starting this evening.  

I've been "scooping" articles and imagery and have collected them here:  I'll continue to update this as the storm makes landfall.

If you are seeing this as the system is hitting, check out this awesome satellite imagery of the storm:  Rapid Scan

Here's a great weather discussion of how odd and historic this storm is turning out to be from a meteorologist perspective:  The Great halloween hybrid named Sandy

Forecast from a few days ago. 

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Arctic sea ice extent blows previous record out of the water

This summer was an intense one in Denver.  Denver had 73 days above 90 degrees Fahrenheit this year, which is just one of the many records broken this summer locally and globally.  I spent July and August traveling in Wyoming, Colorado, then east on I70 to Kentucky and northeast to New York City, then to northern Wisconsin before returning to a hot and crispy Colorado. My travels brought me to places much more humid than Denver, so just be thankful for our low heat index values in Colorado, where sweat actually cools you down!  You can see from the image below, not only have temperatures been above normal, we are also quite low in precipitation at Denver International Airport, which hasn't been very helpful after a very poor snow year for the Colorado Rockies last winter.  Colorado and the west in general suffered from awful wild fires this year.  Notable fires for the front range included the High Park fire west of Fort Collins, the small Flagstaff Fire just a mile from my home, and the Waldo Canyon fire near Colorado Springs, which will go down in history as the most horrific fire in Colorado history.
The reason I am writing today, though, is a problem much larger scale than Denver's crispy conditions.  Although this news only made headlines for a day, or a week of you're a reader of the New Yorker, I think it should be the most important story of 2012.
High Noon
2012 set the record for the lowest Arctic sea ice extent ever recorded in the Arctic, by far.  In fact, in 2012, sea ice the size of Texas was lost beyond the previous record set in 2007.  Colleagues at the National Snow and Ice Data Center in Boulder ( have released the following images to put 2012 into perspective in the instrument record.

Northwest passages are open all over the place!
Sea ice loss of this magnitude means that new ice formed this winter will be new and thin, making the sea ice even more vulnerable to melt in 2013.  We are headed towards sea ice-free Arctic summers faster than forecasted.  This affects us in a few ways.  First off, the ice will no longer be there to reflect sunlight, allowing the ocean to absorb sunlight, warming the system.  This creates a feedback mechanism that leads to a very warm Arctic.  Second, without sea ice to cap the Arctic Ocean, the whole heat and moisture balance of the northern hemisphere will be different.  This will directly affect the position of our jet stream and weather systems down here in the mid-latitudes.  How?  We're working on figuring that out, but here's two papers that give us some ideas:  Porter et al, 2012 and Francis and Vavrus 2012.

When sea ice melts it does not raise sea levels.  (Just like your Coke doesn't overflow when the ice cubes melt.) This is a huge relief for those of us mile-highers not interested in making room for climate refugees from the lower elevations.  Unfortunately, sea ice's next door neighboor, the Greenland ice sheet, is also melting, and has been since the 90's.  This summer, NASA reported this:
On average in the summer, about half of the surface of Greenland's ice sheet naturally melts. At high elevations, most of that melt water quickly refreezes in place. Near the coast, some of the melt water is retained by the ice sheet and the rest is lost to the ocean. But this year the extent of ice melting at or near the surface jumped dramatically. According to satellite data, an estimated 97 percent of the ice sheet surface thawed at some point in mid-July.
Note that they're reporting surface melt.  Greenland is thick and they are referring to just the top layer here.  Because Greenland's ice is on land, not floating, it most definitely can contribute to sea level rise.  Only time will tell just how much.  The ice sheet, which is 3000 meters (10,000 feet) thick in some places, holds the potential to raise sea levels by 7.3 meters.  Of course this will be a slow process, but one that I would argue is inevitable considering our current path towards unlimited and unregulated carbon dioxide emissions.

If you're interested in learning more about this, come chat with me or take my MTR 1600 course on Global Climate Change. 

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Warmest June ever recorded in Denver and wildfire a little too close to home

The National Weather Service put together this list of records that Denver broke in June with extreme heat.
Climatologically, July should be warmer than June.  Let's hope we get a break this year!

Lastly, June was dry.  Let's just say everything has been dry in 2012.  Our snowpack was extremely low.  Here is a timelapse of the Flagstaff fire that got started by a lightning strike combined with dry and windy conditions, that got to within two miles of my home.  We're still smelling smoke on a regular basis after five days of fire, but it is relatively contained.  Thanks to Dustin Henderlong for posting this. 

<iframe src="" width="500" height="281" frameborder="0" webkitAllowFullScreen mozallowfullscreen allowFullScreen></iframe> <p><a href="">Boulder's Flagstaff Fire - Timelapse</a> from <a href="">Dustin Henderlong</a> on <a href="">Vimeo</a>.</p>

Friday, May 25, 2012

Interview on Fox 31

Fox 31's Dave Young interviewed me about the relationship between global warming and human health on Tuesday, in anticipation of a paper being released on the topic the next day called "Killer Summer Heat."  (The paper was not written by me, nor had I read it before the interview because it wasn't out yet.)  This happened to be the day Denver broke its daily high temperature record by a few degrees.  The new record was 93 degrees compared to the old record of 90 set in 1939.  My car was in the shop and I was working from home, so they visited me in my back yard for the interview!  Luckily, this is a topic we cover in MTR 1600:  Global Climate Change, so I was very familiar with the concepts.  Take my course this fall if you'd like to learn more!  I haven't actually watched the interview due to my embarrassment over watching myself on film, but I hope it turned out well.

Maybe next time they'll give me enough warning to have done my hair!  ;)

Article in the Examiner

I was interviewed by a writer for the Examiner a while back and here's the article that came out of the interview:  Full Article.

Metro News Clips flattered me with a link in their email as well:

Monday, April 16, 2012

RSS Feeds to Journal Articles

Make science reading a regular part of your life.  I use Google Reader as my electronic reader of choice.  I feed my favorite blogs, news papers, and journal articles to my reader by clicking on the RSS feed button on their webpages. 
Really Simple Syndication (RSS) feed button
To get started, you'll need a google account.  Sign in and start adding RSS feeds to your google reader:

When you click on the RSS feed button on a page, sometimes it will ask you what you'd like to read it on.  Just click on Google and add it to your Reader. 

Once you've got some fun stuff in line to read, start exploring it on the webpage.  Sometimes a feed will just give you a title or an abstract that you'll have to click on for more, but sometimes you can read the full article right on your Reader. 

Now get the Google Reader App for your favorite device and visit it whenever you get some down time!

Here's a few suggested sources for weather, climate, and science folks:

 For fun:

Look right!  I have a Subscribe to Posts RSS feed that you should click on just under the Metro logo!

Here's what my reader looks like on my computer:

Friday, April 13, 2012

The Worst Hard Time

I just finished reading this great book about life on the plains during the Dust Bowl in the 1930s.  It is a heart-wrenching example of how humans can alter their environment for the worst.  Eastern Colorado, Kansas, and the Oklahoma and Texas panhandles became a desert with wild dust storms, no ability to grow crops or even grass to keep the topsoil in place.  A drought was made nearly unsurvivable by decades of poor farming techniques that left the soil vulnerable to wind erosion.

I was reading this book during our dry, warm March (warmest on record for the US) and was getting extra nervous that my garden seemed to have turned to sand.  Finally we have active precipitation in the forecast and everything is blooming! 

Thursday, April 12, 2012

First Year Success Course Enhancement Award

More great news!  Professor Virginia McCarver and I were awarded a First Year Success Course Enhancement Award!  We'll spend time this summer pairing my Global Climate Change course with her Public Speaking course with some joint projects that will involve the latest and greatest in technology like blogs, podcasts, wikis, or social media.  The students will be enrolled in both of our courses and learn and produce projects as a cohort.  Dr. McCarver and I met in a first year Faculty Learning Communitysand I can't wait to continue working with her on such a fun and inspiring project!  Stay tuned for what we come up with!

Here's the official great news:


Monday, April 9, 2012

New Climate Change Textbook for fall

After much searching, I finally found the perfect textbook for my two sections of MTR 1600 Global Climate Change that I will teach in the fall.  John Houghton was co-chair of the Nobel Peace Prize winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Fourth Assessment Report and summarizes their findings in a very accessible way in this colorful, figure-filled book.  I'm looking forward to spending some time this summer revamping this course for the fourth time, although I think this current semester's class is going extremely well thanks to a really bright group of students.  This fall I'm teaching a First Year Success section of this class MW 11:00 and a regular section open to anyone MW at 9:30.  The First Year students will benefit from hitting two birds with one stone by taking this class; it fulfills both the natural science requirement and the global diversity requirement that 2012 catalog students will have to fulfill before graduating.  Other catalog year students will still get a natural science general studies requirement out of it!

MTR 1600 Description: This course presents the science behind global climate change from an Earth systems and atmospheric science perspective. These concepts then provide the basis to explore the effect of global warming on regions throughout the world.  This leads to the analysis of the observed and predicted impacts of climate change on these regions; the effect of these changes on each region's society, culture, and economy; and the efforts of these regions to mitigate or adapt to climate change. The interdependence of all nations will be discussed in regards to fossil fuel-rich regions, regions responsible for greenhouse gas emissions, and regions most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. 3 credits. (General Studies: Natural and Physical Science, Global Diversity requirements)

Friday, April 6, 2012

Science Literacy Faculty Learning Community 2012-13

I recently got great news that my proposal to lead a Faculty Leaning Community next year was accepted!  I'm hoping to get together a group of 5-10 science professors who are interested in spending a school year trying to solve a problem of epic importance to society, teaching science literacy.  Faculty Learning Communities usually meet for two hours every three weeks.  The members prepare by reading the same literature, researching between meetings, and trying new things in their classrooms, then reporting back to the group.  Some of the most successful groups present or publish their findings at the end of the school year.  The sense of community is really the best part, though.  It's great to find other faculty who are interested in constantly improving their teaching effectiveness.  I still keep in touch with the professors in my first year faculty learning community!

Please email me at if you have any ideas for a book I could use as the main reading for the community.  If you're a Metro professor and would like to join me, we'll have a call for applications in the first few weeks of class in 2012.

Here's the proposal:
I would like to facilitate a faculty learning community for science professors to come together and find scholarly approaches to successfully teach science literacy in the introductory science college classroom.  The new Natural and Physical Sciences general studies requirements starting in fall of 2012, will require us to focus more on science literacy, the scientific method, and general science skills rather than just a slew of information we tend to throw at students on a particular topic in our introductory courses.  Rather than approaching our courses as “An Introduction to My Topic” and treating it like the first class they will take in our field, perhaps we should treat it as the LAST science course our students will ever take.  How can we prepare our non-science majors to use science, logic, math, technology, and skeptical, critical thinking in their everyday lives as citizens?  We can use each of our fields as the channel by which we actively teach our students the scientific way of thinking, rather than focusing on a body of knowledge.  This FLC will use a scholarly approach to search for pedagogical ways to accomplish this in the science classroom, integrate the methods into our courses in the spring, and share successful methods with all of Metro’s science faculty, as well as the broader college science professor community. 

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Spring Forum 2012

The Center for Faculty Development at Metro hosted this year's Spring Forum on Friday, which is a chance for Auraria campus professors to join together and learn about the latest in pedagogy and the scholarship of teaching and learning.  The day was a success.  Here's what I learned:

I attended a session that taught us how to use technology like social media in the classroom.  The feature that knocked my socks off was this webpage called storify.  Storify allows the students to build their own, fun to read article on a topic.  They can search for web content, then simply click and drag it into their story column, add comments, and rearrange it until they find a provocative order of telling what they found.  They can then share the link with the class and get comments from the other students and professor on their work.  This session offered lots of other fun little ideas that I can't wait to explore more in the classroom.

Teaching at its best author Linda Nilson teased us with a fun activity that showed us how our brains work in learning.  She gave out a worksheet and little did we know, half of the room had one set of directions and half had another!  One half was looking at a series of 30 words and writing down a number for how many times they interacted with this thing in the past two weeks.  Words like "tea pot" or "strawberry."  The other half of the room was supposed to count the number of vowels in the words.  Who remembered more of the words when our memory was put to the test?  The folks who had had an emotional connection to the words, the people remembering personal interactions with the things!  Dr. Nilson had lots of other great advice and I can't wait to dive deeper into her book this summer.  

I attended a talk about how to help your First Year Success students be successful.  One of the greatest things I took away was the idea of giving your students a list of things they must do the first two weeks of class:  buy the text book, send the professor an email, drop by office hours, log in to metro connect to find course materials, etc.  This will get students off to a great start!

Lastly, I presented a poster during the lunch hour.  Here it is:

Monday, April 2, 2012

Three fabulous links

It's only Monday morning and I've already run across three awesome weather and climate links that I can't help but share.  Thank you, social media! 

1.  On the Great Warm Wave of March 2012.  Note that March went on record for Denver as the driest ever recorded and the 2nd warmest.
2.   The Carbon Map made visible by adjusting country sizes for how much carbon they emit, how vulnerable they are, etc.
3.  Wind Map of surface wind trajectories.  A cool way to "see" the wind.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Global Warming Talks

This week Dr. Kevin Trenberth did us the honor of speaking to interested Metro students and faculty about global warming.  Dr. Trenberth is a world renowned scientist housed at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado.  He has developed several of the techniques I teach my students in my Advanced Synoptic Meteorology course on diagnosing vertical motions in the atmosphere, having written a famous paper on the topic back in 1978.  He is now famously known for his climate work on global energy budgets, a topic very close to my heart due to my partner's work in the field.  Trenberth has written ~500 peer reviewed journal articles, and is probably one of the most cited people in our field.  He has also been a lead author for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's assessment reports, an extremely huge undertaking.  I was honored that Dr. Trenberth would take the time to come chat to a crowd who, honestly, had no idea how important he is.  Although there were two rude audience members who chose to speak over Trenberth's insightful answers to their questions, leaving us all feeling very uncomfortable for the lack of respect given to him, we all came away feeling informed and inspired to make a difference.  

Dr. James Hansen, the head of NASA Goddard, has been an advocate pushing us to reduce carbon dioxide emissions since before I was born.  Here is his latest plea, in the form of a TED talk. 

All of the topics Trenberth and Hansen discuss are the focus of a course I teach called Global Climate Change (MTR 1600).  Please sign up for this course this coming fall if you are interested in learning more!  Here's the course description: 
 This course presents the science behind global climate change from an Earth systems and atmospheric science perspective.  These concepts then provide the basis to explore the effect of global warming on regions throughout the world.  This leads to the analysis of the observed and predicted impacts of climate change on these regions; the effect of these changes on each region’s society, culture, and economy; and the efforts of these regions to mitigate or adapt to climate change.  The interdependence of all nations will be discussed in regards to fossil fuel-rich regions, regions responsible for greenhouse gas emissions, and regions most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. (General Studies Level II - Natural Science, Global Diversity)

Friday, February 24, 2012

Career Advice

I have a nice collection of career advice books and articles that I share with my seniors, but I thought I'd put them out there for all of you to take a look at.  Please visit the "Careers" tab above or click here:
Most importantly, there is a great book specifically for atmospheric scientists called Eloquent Science.  All atmospheric scientists between their freshman year of college and their last year of graduate school should own a copy.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012


I live in Boulder, but commute to Denver five days a week.  This means that I am commuting two hours a day.  I do a combination of things on the bus.  I might randomly get on the same bus as another Earth and Atmospheric Science professor, three of which take the same route to school every day, and chat with them about teaching.  I might correct labs or homework, since I get about 50 a week that need correcting.  I might put on some classical music and brainstorm about research, pedagogy, my to-do list, or just ways to get a concept across.  Most likely, though, you will find me listening to podcasts.  Podcasts act as my news source, particularly science news. 

Here is a list of my favorite science podcasts.  I highly recommend subscribing to them for free via iTunes and putting them on your ipod the next time you sync it.  Give them a listen!  It's a great way to keep sharp.  Oh, and the next time you see me with my headphones in, instead of assuming I'm rocking out to music, wonder what I'm learning about science!

Science Podcasts
Skeptic's Guide to the Universe (your escape to reality)
Science Friday
60-second Science
Science Magazine
NPR Topics - Science

Education Podcast
American Radio Works

Monday, February 13, 2012

Steroids, Baseball, and Climate Change

Steroids, baseball, and climate change analogy beautifully created by NCAR/UCAR.  This explains how extreme events become more common as the Earth continues to warm due to anthropogenic emissions.  If you'd like to learn more about this, take my MTR 1600 course:  Global Climate Change.  I'm also always up for chatting about it!

Friday, February 10, 2012

Snow storm totals and maps

The storm proved to be wonderfully filled with moisture.  I had 22 inches at my house, which made for a fabulous birthday weekend for me!  I rang in a new decade by playing in the snow!  Here's a list of snow totals from the National Weather Service for the front range area:
We broke the February storm total record set back in 1912.  We also set the snow record for Friday.  Metro closed for the day, which was a great choice!  It was nice to work from home and not be out on the roads, but still be able to throw on my snow pants and boots and go for a mid-afternoon hike in the foothills.  

I just grabbed a few weather maps from a week ago today before they are archived to show the synoptic set up for Friday evening during the later portion of the storm.  This storm would be a great case study storm for an upslope event! 

From the bottom of the atmosphere up:

About 90% of the way through the storm on my front patio. 

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Groundhog's Day Colorado Snow Storm of 2012

February is typically a drier month for Colorado.  In fact, the record snowfall from a single storm in Denver in February is 14.1 inches.  This record was set 100 years ago back in 1912!  While we come to expect snows larger than 14 inches in late March, sometimes April, as well as during the autumn, today's snow storm might break the February record.  Around 5:00 tonight, things are expected to get started. Here's the latest snowfall predictions:

Stay tuned to for the latest!

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Climate 101 Online

The author of the new textbook we have adopted for Global Climate Change this semester, David Archer, is featured on the New York Times blog discussing the release of his videos that go along with the book so anyone can learn about climate change online.  Although I'm sure these are extremely well done, I can't help but recommend that you simply take my MTR 1600 course instead! 

Check it out:
I can't really comment on the book at the moment, as I am just diving into the depths of it this week, trying to change over old presentations to follow his set up.  I hope it is worth the switch from Kump et al. "The Earth System," which is a fantastic book, but just a little too much depth for the amount of time we have to cover the pure science in my course. 

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Movie Recommendataion: Baraka

Baraka is a movie without dialogue that tells a story of people and places.  It is the most beautiful film I've ever seen and it's now out on Blue Ray disc.  I highly recommend watching it!

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Weather Discussion Webpage

In my Advanced Synoptic course I will be having my students lead a 20-minute weather discussion each class.  I made myself a webpage that goes through the links that a person might show during a basic, but comprehensive weather discussion.  I think this skeleton structure will help keep my discussions more organized and help my students as well.  I thought I'd share this with you.  If you follow the links from top to bottom and do what they say, it will familiarize you with the sorts of things we like to look at as weather weenies. I think many meteorologists have their favorite webpages they use to forecast, but these are mine.  I am biased to the maps I used at the University of Wisconsin when I first learned how to give a weather discussion back in 2004, so you'll see their map style pop up throughout my links.

Here's a snip of the top of the page...
... and so on. 

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

AGU 2011 Fall Meeting

I attended the American Geophysical Union Fall Meeting with 21,000 geophysicists the second week in December 2011. I sat through countless talks, saw hundreds of posters, met up with old colleagues, and presented my own poster in an education session, although most of the sessions I attended were on the cryosphere.  Here is my poster:

Click here for a larger version.