Whither the Weather

 

Since the last ice sheets retreated 12,000 years ago, up to about a week ago, whenever folks got together they would talk about the weather. Well no more. Now all variance in temperature, precipitation, or wind speed is a result of climate.

You may have noticed that the State of California has been experiencing some really interesting climate this last little while. High winds, torrential rain, and heavy seas have led to some interesting newspaper commentary.  This appeared in a news story, stated as fact, without any supporting statistics, “After twenty-five years of drought conditions in the Mountain West,” we finally got some rain.

Really? Has there actualy been twenty-five years of drought in the Mountain West? I decided to find out. I chose three representative cities, Flagstaff, Colorado Springs, and Salt Lake City, and looked up how much average yearly precipitation in inches each has received since 1950. Below are the yearly averages by decade.

Flagstaff                    Colorado Springs                    Salt Lake City

1950’s       17.7                               14.9                                                13.6

1960’s        19.7                              15                                                     15.24

1970’s         22.5                              15.5                                                 16.41

1980’s          25.1                              17.5                                                  17.17

1990’s          22.7                              19.1                                                  16.33

2000’s           17.4                              14.0                                                 14.7

2010’s             23                                 15.6                                                 15.72

In fairness, the first three years of the 2020s have been a couple of inches dryer than normal, but 2023 is shaping up to be a monster year, which I would bet will more than equalize the averages. In short, there is not, nor has there been, a drought based on actual precipitaiion totals in the Mountain West.

Interestingly, these three cities straddle the Colorado River drainage basin on the west, east, and south.  We’ve all seen pictures of the historically dry Lake Mead of today contrasted with the full-to-the-brim Lake Mead of the 1960s. The only problem is that the basin got more rain in the 2010s than it did in the water skiing swinging 60s.

This second quote was a comment made by San Francisco native Gavin Newsom. “This whiplash weather is not an anomaly. California is proof that the climate crisis is real.” Is It?  Are the fluctuations from drought to flood worse today than in the past? Fortunately, we have data to prove it.

Below are the wettest and dryest years by decade for San Francisco by decade going back to the Gold Rush. Obviously, if we are having “whiplash weather,” we should be having both dryer and wetter years since 2000 than we did in the past. Well, let’s see.

decade               dryest year       wettest year          difference

1850                     7.42                       35.26                          27.84

1860                      10.08                     49.27                          39.19

1870                       11.04                      35.18                          24.14

1880                        16.14                      45.85                         29.71

1890                        9.38                        25.74                          16.36

1900                         17.35                     26.17                           8.82

1910                           10.46                     29.60                          19.14

1920                          11.62                       30.81                           19.19

1930                           12.91                       25.48                          12.57

1940                          14.89                       35.05                          20.16

1950                          10.46                       36.48                          26.02

1960                          12.32                        29.41                          17.05

1970                           8.05                         34.36                          26.31

1980                            14.32                        38.17                          23.85

1990                            14.08                        47.22                          33.14

2000                            16.89                        34.42                          17.53

2010                              11.70                         32.34                          20.64

So what does this tell us? The wettest year was in the 1860s, the dryest in the 1850s. The wildest swings occurred in the 1860’s, 1990s, and 1880s. By statistical averages, the 2000s and 2010s had below-average swings.

Well, what does all this show? There ain’t no drought and there ain’t no wild swings in weather. If there is a water problem at Lake Mead, it isn’t a result of lack of rain. I suspect it’s an outflow problem.

I believe the above to be accurate, but I’m just a guy with the internet and too much time on his hands. Maybe one of the podcast guys could have a climate guru on to address the issue.

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  1. Modus Ponens Member
    Modus Ponens
    @ModusPonens

    If it’s too hot, it’s climate change. Too cold, it’s climate change. Too wet, it’s climate change. Too dry, it’s climate change. If the crime rate is up, it’s climate change. If the crime rate is down, it’s climate change. If it’s climate change, it’s climate change. If it’s not climate change, it’s climate change.

    • #1
  2. kedavis Coolidge
    kedavis
    @kedavis

    Modus Ponens (View Comment):

    If it’s too hot, it’s climate change. Too cold, it’s climate change. Too wet, it’s climate change. Too dry, it’s climate change. If the crime rate is up, it’s climate change. If the crime rate is down, it’s climate change. If it’s climate change, it’s climate change. If it’s not climate change, it’s climate change.

    And if it’s not aliens, it’s aliens.

     

    • #2
  3. kedavis Coolidge
    kedavis
    @kedavis

    And it doesn’t matter if California starts getting more rain, last I heard they haven’t built a new water project – reservoirs, etc – since the 1970s.

    • #3
  4. Steve Fast Coolidge
    Steve Fast
    @SteveFast

    Excellent research. And I haven’t seen the point anywhere about the drop in Lake Meade not being a result of less rain.

    • #4
  5. kedavis Coolidge
    kedavis
    @kedavis

    Steve Fast (View Comment):

    Excellent research. And I haven’t seen the point anywhere about the drop in Lake Meade not being a result of less rain.

    I seem to remember reading – perhaps before leaving Arizona – that the demand on water from that system adds up to over 100% of supply.

    • #5
  6. DonG (CAGW is a Scam) Coolidge
    DonG (CAGW is a Scam)
    @DonG

    kedavis (View Comment):

    And it doesn’t matter if California starts getting more rain, last I heard they haven’t built a new water project – reservoirs, etc – since the 1970s.

    They are removing water storage because of things like the Delta Smelt

    Delta Smelt, Icon of California Water Wars, Is Almost Extinct

     

    Below is a picture of the Los Angeles River–one of the most photographed rivers in the world.
    Rain is rare in LA.

    Every LA Filming Location From Grease, 40 Years Later

    • #6
  7. Ekosj Member
    Ekosj
    @Ekosj

    kedavis (View Comment):

    Steve Fast (View Comment):

    Excellent research. And I haven’t seen the point anywhere about the drop in Lake Meade not being a result of less rain.

    I seem to remember reading – perhaps before leaving Arizona – that the demand on water from that system adds up to over 100% of supply.

    From (of all places) the NYT:

    Mead’s disappearing act highlights the Southwest’s chronic overuse of Colorado River water. Trouble originated with the 1922 Colorado River Compact, which estimated the river’s water flow at 16.4 million acre-feet per year and divided that up among seven states and Mexico. Today, scientists believe the compact overestimated the flow by as much as 2 million to 3 million acre-feet…The bottom line is that Mead has consistently had more water withdrawn than deposited, resulting in an average annual deficit of 1.6 million acre-feet 

    • #7
  8. kedavis Coolidge
    kedavis
    @kedavis

    Ekosj (View Comment):

    kedavis (View Comment):

    Steve Fast (View Comment):

    Excellent research. And I haven’t seen the point anywhere about the drop in Lake Meade not being a result of less rain.

    I seem to remember reading – perhaps before leaving Arizona – that the demand on water from that system adds up to over 100% of supply.

    From (of all places) the NYT:

    Mead’s disappearing act highlights the Southwest’s chronic overuse of Colorado River water. Trouble originated with the 1922 Colorado River Compact, which estimated the river’s water flow at 16.4 million acre-feet per year and divided that up among seven states and Mexico. Today, scientists believe the compact overestimated the flow by as much as 2 million to 3 million acre-feet…The bottom line is that Mead has consistently had more water withdrawn than deposited, resulting in an average annual deficit of 1.6 million acre-feet

    Yes.  As I recall, the original “estimate” was made in or just after a year of unusually high rainfall etc.

    • #8
  9. EB Thatcher
    EB
    @EB

    If you worry about the weather, don’t move down South.

    • #9
  10. Annefy Member
    Annefy
    @Annefy

    kedavis (View Comment):

    And it doesn’t matter if California starts getting more rain, last I heard they haven’t built a new water project – reservoirs, etc – since the 1970s.

    Correct. We’re getting drenched here in the foothills in SoCal. It just stopped raining yesterday, and we’ve got another storm coming on Saturday. At dinner last night a friend said “good. we need it”. No, we don’t. The ground is saturated and all the excess is running into the ocean. What good is it if we’re not collecting it?

    • #10
  11. kedavis Coolidge
    kedavis
    @kedavis

    Annefy (View Comment):

    kedavis (View Comment):

    And it doesn’t matter if California starts getting more rain, last I heard they haven’t built a new water project – reservoirs, etc – since the 1970s.

    Correct. We’re getting drenched here in the foothills in SoCal. It just stopped raining yesterday, and we’ve got another storm coming on Saturday. At dinner last night a friend said “good. we need it”. No, we don’t. The ground is saturated and all the excess is running into the ocean. What good is it if we’re not collecting it?

    And causing mudslides etc on the way to the ocean.

    • #11
  12. Suspira Member
    Suspira
    @Suspira

    People tend to think “normal” is what it was like in their child/teen years. That’s why there is so much “It’s never done this before!” alarmism. Plus, they have a habit of forgetting most of those years. Our local weather treasure, James Spann, periodically posts historical temperatures to counter some of the panic.

    • #12
  13. Old Bathos Moderator
    Old Bathos
    @OldBathos

    What looks like normal precipitation to you is a severe drought existing simultaneously with extreme rainfall.

    • #13
  14. Steven Seward Member
    Steven Seward
    @StevenSeward

    Excellent research, Dave!  You’ve done a far more credible job than Michael Mann!

    • #14
  15. Randy Weivoda Moderator
    Randy Weivoda
    @RandyWeivoda

    Modus Ponens (View Comment):

    If it’s too hot, it’s climate change. Too cold, it’s climate change. Too wet, it’s climate change. Too dry, it’s climate change. If the crime rate is up, it’s climate change. If the crime rate is down, it’s climate change. If it’s climate change, it’s climate change. If it’s not climate change, it’s climate change.

    I know.  Watching TV news and hearing the phrase climate change nearly every time that there is some nasty weather I have to wonder how many viewers roll their eyes and how many accept that this is true.  It reminds me of some backwards countries where every bad thing that happens is somehow the fault of The Jews.

    • #15
  16. Nanocelt TheContrarian Member
    Nanocelt TheContrarian
    @NanoceltTheContrarian

    Modus Ponens (View Comment):

    If it’s too hot, it’s climate change. Too cold, it’s climate change. Too wet, it’s climate change. Too dry, it’s climate change. If the crime rate is up, it’s climate change. If the crime rate is down, it’s climate change. If it’s climate change, it’s climate change. If it’s not climate change, it’s climate change.

    If it’s a security threat, it’s climate change. If it’s not a security threat, it’s climate change. If it’s immigration, it’s climate change, and, etc.and, etc. and so on and so forth, and again and again, we begin the beguine.

    • #16
  17. Nanocelt TheContrarian Member
    Nanocelt TheContrarian
    @NanoceltTheContrarian

    Steve Fast (View Comment):

    Excellent research. And I haven’t seen the point anywhere about the drop in Lake Meade not being a result of less rain.

    It’s very hard to get less rain than Las Vegas has had forever. It’s the Great Basin, a desert. Rainfall somewhere around 4 inches a year (compare Georgia with average rainfall of around 60 inches a year). And the Colorado river watershed is not the problem. The population of Las Vegas has exploded (around a quarter of a million in the 1970s to about 2.2 million now–almost a factor of 10 change in population in the last 50 years) And the water usage of the population served by Lake Mead and the Colorado river, including the Central Arizona Project that was built between the early 1970s and early to mid 1990s that increased water usage from the Colorado, are likely the reason Lake Mead is so low.  Not “climate change”. 

    Note the flooding in Las Vegas in July and August of 2022. That’s the opposite of a drought. Supposedly the heaviest “monsoon” season in a long time. 

    • #17
  18. Nanocelt TheContrarian Member
    Nanocelt TheContrarian
    @NanoceltTheContrarian

    Annefy (View Comment):

    kedavis (View Comment):

    And it doesn’t matter if California starts getting more rain, last I heard they haven’t built a new water project – reservoirs, etc – since the 1970s.

    Correct. We’re getting drenched here in the foothills in SoCal. It just stopped raining yesterday, and we’ve got another storm coming on Saturday. At dinner last night a friend said “good. we need it”. No, we don’t. The ground is saturated and all the excess is running into the ocean. What good is it if we’re not collecting it?

    It’s very good for mudslides, and multimillion dollar homes collapsing down the cliffs above Malibu. Or being inundated with mud in Topanga Canyon. Very entertaining to watch on the news. 

    • #18
  19. kedavis Coolidge
    kedavis
    @kedavis

    Suspira (View Comment):

    People tend to think “normal” is what it was like in their child/teen years. That’s why there is so much “It’s never done this before!” alarmism. Plus, they have a habit of forgetting most of those years. Our local weather treasure, James Spann, periodically posts historical temperatures to counter some of the panic.

    Yes, and I saw some of that in stills from I think some BBC weather report or something.  In the past they showed the temperatures on a blue background, now they show them on a red background even though the temperatures are LOWER than before!

    • #19
  20. Randy Weivoda Moderator
    Randy Weivoda
    @RandyWeivoda

    Even if the west were in a drought cycle, that’s not exactly new.  As I recall, Lewis and Clark or some other early western explorers declared that most of the country west of the Mississippi River was a wasteland, too dry to be useful.

    • #20
  21. Steven Seward Member
    Steven Seward
    @StevenSeward

    Randy Weivoda (View Comment):

    Modus Ponens (View Comment):

    If it’s too hot, it’s climate change. Too cold, it’s climate change. Too wet, it’s climate change. Too dry, it’s climate change. If the crime rate is up, it’s climate change. If the crime rate is down, it’s climate change. If it’s climate change, it’s climate change. If it’s not climate change, it’s climate change.

    I know. Watching TV news and hearing the phrase climate change nearly every time that there is some nasty weather I have to wonder how many viewers roll their eyes and how many accept that this is true. It reminds me of some backwards countries where every bad thing that happens is somehow the fault of The Jews.

    Heck, and here I thought that Global Warming was the fault of the Jews.  Silly me!

    • #21
  22. kedavis Coolidge
    kedavis
    @kedavis

    Steven Seward (View Comment):

    Randy Weivoda (View Comment):

    Modus Ponens (View Comment):

    If it’s too hot, it’s climate change. Too cold, it’s climate change. Too wet, it’s climate change. Too dry, it’s climate change. If the crime rate is up, it’s climate change. If the crime rate is down, it’s climate change. If it’s climate change, it’s climate change. If it’s not climate change, it’s climate change.

    I know. Watching TV news and hearing the phrase climate change nearly every time that there is some nasty weather I have to wonder how many viewers roll their eyes and how many accept that this is true. It reminds me of some backwards countries where every bad thing that happens is somehow the fault of The Jews.

    Heck, and here I thought that Global Warming was the fault of the Jews. Silly me!

    Reminds me of the old Titanic joke, but I suppose everyone already knows it.

    • #22
  23. The Scarecrow Thatcher
    The Scarecrow
    @TheScarecrow

    Steven Seward (View Comment):

    Randy Weivoda (View Comment):

    Modus Ponens (View Comment):

    If it’s too hot, it’s climate change. Too cold, it’s climate change. Too wet, it’s climate change. Too dry, it’s climate change. If the crime rate is up, it’s climate change. If the crime rate is down, it’s climate change. If it’s climate change, it’s climate change. If it’s not climate change, it’s climate change.

    I know. Watching TV news and hearing the phrase climate change nearly every time that there is some nasty weather I have to wonder how many viewers roll their eyes and how many accept that this is true. It reminds me of some backwards countries where every bad thing that happens is somehow the fault of The Jews.

    Heck, and here I thought that Global Warming was the fault of the Jews. Silly me!

    I thought these days it was Trump.

    • #23
  24. Nanocelt TheContrarian Member
    Nanocelt TheContrarian
    @NanoceltTheContrarian

    Randy Weivoda (View Comment):

    Even if the west were in a drought cycle, that’s not exactly new. As I recall, Lewis and Clark or some other early western explorers declared that most of the country west of the Mississippi River was a wasteland, too dry to be useful.

    A good book that includes some history on water resources and the development of the West is “Beyond the Hundredth Meridian” by Wallace Stegner, a biography of John Wesley Powell. Powell at one point was appointed “czar” of western development. He was very careful and studied the water resources of the West. He advised a pattern of settlement of the West similar to what the Mormons had already established, which was to plant settlements in areas of adequate water resources to allow farming, using irrigation (which Powell first observed at St. Thomas in southern Nevada, the first town–a Mormon settlement established in 1865, on the Muddy River at the then junction with the Virgin river, before the latter joined the Colorado River at the western end of the Grand Canyon). That was before deep wells were drilled to tap the bolsons of the West.  Powell estimated the percent of arable land in Utah at 6%, a figure that was more or less confirmed by LandSat data a hundred years later.

    Congress ultimately fired him and arranged a more helter-skelter settlement, as in the Oklahoma land rush. Powell had warned of human disaster and natural catastrophe if that were done, and that settlement haste led directly to the dust bowl, one of the great human-caused disasters, as the prairie grass, a perennial, was replaced by crops that, when rainfall was insufficient, died with no roots remaining to hold the soil with the great winds of the Great Plains. Powell predicted the dust bowl a half century before it occurred.

    Now the Great Plains relies on glacial water in the deep aquifers, which are gradually being depleted.

    • #24
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