Yesterday was an active weather day along Colorado’s Front Range. A relatively cool springtime weather system from the Pacific, which had moved through the Pacific Northwest on Memorial Day Monday (even affecting San Francisco with a bit of light rain), made it to the central Rockies yesterday morning. Bands of thundershowers formed ahead of the system and moved out of the mountains into the Denver area during the late morning. From a park in Littleton, I took a few photos of one of the approaching lines of storms. The silhouetted darkness of the distant foothills and the angry look of the sky contrasted vividly with the green spring grass in the foreground. I used Aperture to modify some of the images to discover how different enhancements changed the photographic mood of the morning. The results follow…
And, just what did this menacing line of storms look like from above? Fluffy white, and relatively disorganized, as this image from NASA’s Aqua satellite shows (taken a couple hours after the ground-based images; Denver is near the center of the image):
Despite our late snows and cold weather…
[Aside: For the record, April 2013, was Denver’s fifth coldest April since observations began in 1873. The average temperature was 5.7°F (3.2°C) below normal. 20.4 inches (52 cm) of snow fell during the month making it the eleventh snowiest April on record. Boulder, a city about 30 mi (48 km) to the northwest of Denver and closer to the foothills of the Rockies, had its snowiest April ever with more than 4 ft (122 cm) of snow measured during the month.]
…and, with the last, late-season snowstorm coming on May 1, the hummingbirds still managed to return to the mountains about on schedule this year, arriving during the last week of April. They were hungry after their long migratory flight, so the hummingbird feeder was deployed outside as soon as the first trill of hummingbird wings was heard near the house. Surprisingly, especially for so early in the season, I noticed the level in the feeder dropped very quickly in the first few days after I put it outside. I surmised that we had very hungry birds this year or, maybe, there were many more hummingbirds in the area using our feeder than I had seen.
Then, last weekend, the real explanation for the rapid consumption of hummingbird nectar appeared at the feeder:
That’s a Bullock’s Oriole, and I’m no ornithologist (IANAO 🙂 ), but it, apparently, likes sweetened water and it has a beak small enough to fit into a hummingbird feeder. It had a “field day” taking long gulps out of the feeder, despite the cackling and diving of the hummingbirds as they tried to scare it away from their food source. Needless to say, until the wildflowers start blooming, there will probably be an ongoing confrontation between the oriole (or orioles) and the hummingbirds.
With the early May sun providing about 5 times the energy as the mid-winter sun (in the Northern Hemisphere at 40ºN latitude assuming a clear sky), it doesn’t take long to melt the 6-15 inches (15-38 cm) of snow that fell along the Colorado Front Range yesterday. Before it all melted, I took this beautifully white picture looking west from the southern Denver suburbs towards the mountains. The higher peaks along the Continental Divide which would typically be visible behind the mountains shown are obscured by the cumulus clouds in the picture.
Central Colorado had a very snowy April—for instance, Boulder, CO set a record for April snowfall measuring more than four feet (122 cm) of snow during the month…and most of that fell during a two-week span in the middle of the month. May has continued the pattern with an all-day snowfall today along the Front Range of the central Rockies. What does a mid-spring snow day look like? Much like a mid-winter snow day except for the perturbed robin and the confused buds…
This has been a snowy March along the Front Range of Colorado and the most recent storm which blew in Friday night and lasted through much of yesterday (Saturday) was unusual in a number of ways. First, it was quite a cold storm for late March. For instance, yesterday’s clouds, snow, and strong north winds held Denver’s high temperature to only 23°F (-10°C), a whopping 34°F (19°C) below normal. The storm also broke several records for single-day snowfall for March 23, almost 11 inches (28 cm) in Boulder, more than a foot and a half (46 cm) east of Denver over the wheat fields that spread to Kansas.
One other weirdly interesting aspect of this storm is that it is following a track just about due eastward from the snow field it left in Colorado yesterday to the areas it will affect tomorrow as it moves off the east coast of the U.S. in the afternoon. In fact, it seems to be using I-70, one of the essential east-west routes of the Interstate Highway system, as its guide. Just look at this map of I-70’s route overlaid with the area of snow already deposited by the storm and forecasted to fall in the next 24 hours:
There’s not a bad correlation at all between the path of I-70 and the path of the storm’s snowfall.
It is not uncommon for a storm to move more-or-less due eastward across the U.S., following the winds in the upper atmosphere which usually blow from west to east at mid-latitudes. However, it is unusual in late March for a storm to take this track and and leave such a continuous layer of snow this far south across the central U.S. The biggest downside from the storm is probably the chaos it has had and will have on I-70 traffic, the biggest upside: the farmers in the grain belt will be happy. Now, I’m looking forward to spring!
Continuing with entries honoring National Poetry Month…
Today, the third of April, provides a perfect opportunity for another April poem, this one entitled “Song of a Second April” by Edna St. Vincent Millay. Millay was a talented if somewhat enigmatic American poet of the early twentieth century who often wrote about the many sides of love. Her finest lyrics are comparable to the best European and English poets from the Romantic and Victorian eras. Her sonnets, in particular, show the hand of a skilled artist with great instincts for combining words, feelings, pictures, drama, candor, and confidence into a traditional poetic style. As a follow-up to today’s poem, I’ll include one of her sonnets in a subsequent National Poetry Month post.
Song of a Second April
There rings a hammering all day,
The larger streams run still and deep,
by Edna St. Vincent Millay, New York & London: Harper & Bros., 1921, pp. 35-36.
Nope, no April Fool’s Day joke here (well, at least, it’s not meant to be), instead…
Today marks the beginning of a month-long celebration of poetry, poets, and all things poetic. Aptly named “National Poetry Month,” it was inaugurated as a yearly tribute to poetry in the United States a mere twelve years ago by the Academy of American Poets . This annual rite was created to “increase the attention paid (by individuals and the media) to the art of poetry, to living poets, to our poetic heritage, and to poetry books and magazines… [and] to achieve an increase in the visibility, presence, and accessibility of poetry in our culture.“ The Academy of American Poets web site has more information about National Poetry Month including this FAQ.
To add one small voice to the national celebration, during this month I’ll share some recent (or maybe not so recent) poems I have come across which I have enjoyed—proof that even a computer scientist/meteorologist can occasionally discover a right side to the brain.
To begin the month, here is a poem in sonnet form entitled “April in Town“, apropos given the current month (of course!) It is by the 19th-century American poet, Lizette Woodworth Reese. Reese was a contemporary of Emily Dickinson. Although she never gained the same level of attention and critical acclaim as Dickinson, still, during her lifetime, she was a popular artist of traditional poetic forms. The majority of her poetry presented bucolic or nostalgic themes, often favored in the post-Victorian era.
April in Town
A Handful of Lavender
by Lizette Woodworth Reese, Boston and New York: Houghton, Mifflin & Co., 1891, p. 85.
During this transitional season from winter to summer, as the sun travels higher in the sky each day and hints of summer’s warmth become more frequent, the weather responds to the nature of the season as well. Often, here in the central Rockies of Colorado, there are days when still-chilly northwesterly winds are accompanied by frequent snow showers in the unstable atmosphere of spring—unstable because the atmosphere retains its cold memory from winter, while the land rapidly warms from the relatively strong springtime sun. The following timelapse animation shows an example of this, with daytime heating causing snow showers to form and spread southeastward pushed by strong, cold winds from the northwest:
The timelapse compresses about 3 hours of midday weather into 33 seconds of video. It was taken yesterday (29 March), and the camera was pointed to the south-southeast. The images used in the animation were taken once every 20 seconds. The location was just west of the Continental Divide in the Colorado Rockies.