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Mapping the Summer Heat Wave in Surfer

Mapping the Summer Heat Wave in Surfer

As an avid outdoorsman in Colorado, I am always making sure I know what the current local weather pattern is going to do. Whether I’m going into Rocky Mountain National Park for a day hike, attending an outdoor show at Red Rocks amphitheater, or riding in the weekly Denver Cruiser ride, I have learned over the past 17 years that the weather in my colorful state is always unpredictable! I know I need to consult the forecast to see if I need to wear a rain jacket, pack a sweatshirt, cover myself with sunscreen, or a combination of all 3 before I embark on my journey. However, the past weeks and even few months seem to change this mode of thinking. The weather has been more predictable than past years; it’s going to be hot and dry.

There has been a lot of buzz in the media lately about El Niño and the global heatwave this summer. This piqued my interest; I was curious if Colorado was experiencing the same trend locally compared to previous years’ temperatures. My mapping professional side couldn’t balk at the opportunity to create some maps that compare the summer temperatures over past years in hopes to find some obvious temperature-increasing trends.

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Predicting Local Precipitation and Temperature from Oceanic Niño Index

It seems that this year is one of the colder and wetter years in my recent memory, at least in Colorado. Several ski areas have stayed open or have reopened every weekend past the original closing date because of additional snow fall. At least one ski area was still open this June, which is traditionally biking, hiking, and mountain climbing season. Trail Ridge Road in early June reportedly had 20 foot deep snowbanks in places, which is some of the highest I can remember. I recall back in the spring hearing about winter 2016 being one of the strongest El Niño years. So, I began to wonder, did we receive more precipitation this year because of the El Niño? Does Colorado normally receive more precipitation in El Niño years? And, because I love to see actual data and graphs “proving” the results, how can I visualize this?

I started by collecting precipitation data from NOAA for the entire state of Colorado. The data only went through the end of April, 2016 so I wasn’t able to evaluate the last 6 weeks of data. I compiled the data from 1950 to 2016, using only the data from January through the end of April. I then separated the data into El Niño years, La Niña years, and Normal years, based on the oceanic niño index information. I then created a bar chart in Grapher displaying the data. I was surprised to discover that it didn’t seem to affect precipitation over the entire state whether the ocean temperatures were cool (blue bars) or warm (red bars).

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