This could be the last winter Billy Barr measures snowfall in Gothic, Colorado. Barr, 71 years-old and for decades the only resident of the abandoned mining town, has measured the amount and water density of snowfall since the 1970s. The same way. Every year. While far more technologically advanced methods are available, the value of Barr’s dataset is its size, consistency, and the fact that snow in Gothic eventually melts and flows to the Colorado River.
“The thing is, nowadays, there’s mountain weather stations all over the place,” Barr, whose aging hips are making cross-country skiing a painful challenge, told the Washington Post. “But there aren’t any from [back] then.” Barr is generous with his data and has been listed as a co-author on multiple papers on the effects of climate change on wildlife in the Colorado Rockies. “Back in the ’70s, there were winters where we had well over 100 days in a row where it didn’t get [above] freezing. Last winter, the most was nine,” Barr said.
In part because of his meticulous data collection, a federally funded lab is setting up shop in Gothic with, among other equipment, lasers that can measure the size of snowflakes. Even so, biologist David Inouye told the Post, whenever Barr decides to hang up his skis, lab workers will continue measuring snowfall on his table made of PVC pipe and 2x4s. “I think the lab appreciates how valuable Billy’s observations have been, and how important it will be to keep them going,” he said. (Washington Post $)