Episode 19: How Researchers Fight Dust Storms and Desertification

Episode 19: How researchers fight dust storms & desertification

Dr. David DuBois, New Mexico State Climatologist, Director of the New Mexico Climate Center, & Associate Professor at New Mexico State University discusses the latest in climate observation and air quality research. Learn about the ZiaMet Agricultural Weather Station Network, how researchers in New Mexico fight dust storms and desertification, how machine learning can help climate prediction, and much more.


David DuBois, PhD, is the state climatologist for New Mexico, director of the New Mexico Climate Center, and college associate professor at New Mexico State University. He also serves as the state coordinator for the New Mexico Community Collaborative Rain, Hail and Snow (CoCoRaHS).

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Hello, everybody, and welcome to We Measure the World, a podcast produced by scientists, for scientists.

How do we adapt to urban heat island plus with climate change those on top of each other? And then we’ve had some really near record breaking temperatures as well as other places like last year seeing it in the northwest. What do we do from the climate community side? And how do we help out with those programs in terms of cooling and how to think of the social issues of people who don’t have access to air conditioning, which there are quite a few actually, when it’s like 107 outside, it’s 107 inside to you know if you have, you know, respiratory problem. That’s a big red flag.

That’s a small taste of what we have in store for you today. We Measure the World explores interesting environmental research trends, how scientists are solving research issues, and what tools are helping them better understand measurements across the entire soil plant atmosphere continuum. Today’s guest is David Dubois state climatologist for New Mexico, Director of the New Mexico Climate Center, and associate professor at New Mexico State University. And he’s here to talk about climate observation and research in the state of New Mexico. So Dave, thanks so much for being here.

Thanks for inviting me.

We wanted to talk about several of your projects and research interests. But first, can you tell us just a little bit about your background and how you became involved in climate research? And then you know, ultimately becoming climatologist for the great state of New Mexico?

Sure. Yeah. Me glad to. Yeah, so I’ve been a state climatologist since 2010. And I was prior to that I was with the Desert Research Institute in Las Vegas, Nevada, enjoyed working in more air quality air pollution for about seven years before that, you know, I worked in Reno as well. So I had a really a lot of interest in air quality and um dealing with mainly on how weather and climate affect air quality pollution, dust, ozone, are big big topics, especially here and in the West when we get the high ozone from urban areas, as well as wildfire smoke. So I’ve had a lot of interest in both topics, actually. And then when this position opened up, right around 2010, I was just like great, because my family is actually from New Mexico. And I just think that’s a great opportunity to come back and enjoy being close to family in the great state of New Mexico. And I really enjoy working here as the state climatologist and I get to do a lot of different things as a lot of state climatologist do I think every office is, has a very unique role as well as what kinds of things that they work on. And then how the state climate offices either in a university or state agency or some other agency, and I didn’t really know that much about it until I got here actually kind of learned by by doing. I have a lot of great colleagues from our my neighboring states as well as actually the whole country we meet usually once a year. And so I learned over time, and this is my just finishing my 11th year.

Yeah, and as you mentioned, being state climatologist I’m sure you have several hats that you need to wear in different situations and settings and a lot of varied projects that you help oversee or consult on or otherwise, one of those projects that we’d love to start off and get into if you can give us a little background into the ZiaMet agricultural weather station network.

Yeah, yeah, as many states have, they have weather station networks and um some are more developed than others. And some have been out there for 30 years or more, and some are pretty new. And, and so I came on board in New Mexico and we had a few stations. On my at that point, I wouldn’t call it a Mesonet yet, but it was basically a network of weather stations. At our ag science centers, those are NMSU off campus locations which mainly dealing with local agricultural issues. And so we had weather stations there to kind of support their research. And I’ve looked at other states, and they have that kind of network as well as filling the gaps between like National Weather Service, Co Op sites, airports, SNOTEL, any other federal networks out there, as well as other private networks. It’s been my goal ever since I started really to get funding as well as building a network not only the physical weather station hardware, but also the network of people to help with that. It’s not just putting a bunch of hardware out in the field. It’s working with counties, soil conservation districts, extension, you know, building that network to help with that. And just recently, you know, we’ve been working with state legislature to get that off the ground. We really haven’t had very much opposition It’s mainly been the lack of funds has been the opposition, but that is that has actually changed recently.

We’ve talked with with other people in other states who are setting up their own, you know, Mesonets and others and and especially at with a project the scale, especially with with New Mexico being as large as it is, and covering such varied Geography and climate. Sometimes there might be the sense that getting buy in or getting funding might be a pretty difficult process. Are you saying that it hasn’t been as difficult as you were assuming? I’m sure that there have have been the ups and downs in that whole process? Right?

Yeah, actually, if you were to ask that same question. Probably two years ago, I would say it’s almost impossible not well impossible but it’s really hard. It’s relatively easy to get soft money, a research project and built in weather station and then say, okay, we’re gonna we’re gonna work in this region, and we’re going to put a new station and, you know, put new sensors in. And as research projects goes, we all know, there are they have a start and stop date. And sometimes they’re a year sometimes they’re as long as five years. And so there’s that there’s that sustainability issue when you’re dealing with soft money. When you’re dealing with something that is inherently long term in nature, like weather stations, you know, we you know, as climatologist, we treasure, long periods of record, you know, if we can get datasets that that go decades, those are really important. So it’s that, how do we support that station with visiting with doing maintenance, QA, sensor replacements, and have somebody look at the data on a regular basis, visiting the site, just to just to make sure everything’s okay, there’s not vines growing over and frogs making their house inside rain gauges, things like that, that go on all the time. If you don’t look at the station, nobody takes care of it. So it’s that over time, like I said, it’s been fairly easy to get funding for shorts short term, but it’s that longevity is so how do we get long term sustaining funds to keep things going, you know, in the past, we’ve used locals with our university to help out, can you go by the station every month, check the rain gauge, make sure the weeds aren’t covering things and replace the battery on a regular basis, things like that. But a lot of times there’s no funding associated with it’s more of their volunteer helping out, that’s still valuable is to having that. But also we need that funding long term to keep things going, you know, when things fail, you know, either a flood or a wildfire, lightning, I mean, a lot of things that go wrong, and just just lifetime of the sensors, we got to put that into our in some kind of budget. And that’s what’s been really hard. We got our funding going through stakeholders, meaning folks who use the data, they were really interesting having more data, because you know, co-op network is sparse, especially in the West, we don’t replace the co-op observers. And those are the long term observers out there sometimes have been several generations, sometimes we lose those and then there’s no local data that they can use, knowing that we existed here now as the key is to let people know that the state climate office does exist. We have a state climatologist and or somebody actually willing and able to go to bat and to do this. That’s, that’s key. That’s an unknown. Another is make sure you’re known throughout the communities. Otherwise, people don’t even know who to contact and getting that buyout and say, hey, you know, we we are here, we can do this. We just need help, and making it a high priority and status in like state agencies or even eventually into a legislative bill. And that’s kind of how we got started. And it’s been several years and process. It wasn’t just like boom, there. It took a lot of work and getting people in the National Weather Service. Forecast Offices have been really key in that and so if you haven’t, if you’re interested in doing this is getting them on board and getting to know them and partnering with them in getting support and with New Mexico we’ve been working with the drought community to get okay where to where are our gaps in knowledge of drought where we have and so I mean we’ve used CoCoRaHS to help with that. But what we really need that that automated or another co-op stations or we can get a Mesonet station and that’s that’s going to be the big, a big deal.

Would you say that you’ve you’ve had any other champions of the projects within both private and public sector or even within you know, government agencies or legislature?

One service has been our key champion. We have three forecast offices that serve New Mexico we got Midland, Albuquerque and Santa Teresa, which is near El Paso. And all three have been, you know, so yeah, we need we need more data. And also working with water agencies has been key, like our state engineers office, because they have a lot that’s in a lot of the states. And in this area, drought monitoring, and especially supporting the US Drought Monitor comes from the water agencies, like ours does Arizona as well. So having them on board and getting support letters and letting people know that there’s a there’s a need and speaking up and talking about it. And even though it may not result in funding, and that side is just building that collaboration, we’re here. This is what we’re doing. Who uses the data, can you use the data? That’s really key.

Before we get too deep into discussing the project itself, I was interested in the name ZiaMets and where that came from. Can you talk about that a little bit?

When I first started here, we I had some students, and I said, Well, let’s have a contest. Let’s, you know, put some names in a hat. And let’s talk about it in um and then we actually had several of us. We agreed on that on ZMA. Keziah is sort of the symbol of New Mexico. And it’s actually a Pueblo, a tribal nation in New Mexico, but it’s been it’s been adopted is sort of the symbol for New Mexico. It’s part of our New Mexico flag, Zia symbol. And it was sort of represents, since we’re a statewide network, we want to make make it look like New Mexico. And we came up, we also came up with a logo, we continue to use that logo in our outreach.

That’s great. No, I knew about the the, you know, the Zia people and Zia Pueblo, but I didn’t know about the the symbol aspect of it. So that’s really cool. What with the project of this ZiaMet network? What were the New Mexico specific problems that inspired the project or New Mexico specific goals that you’re seeking to, you know, accomplish?

Yeah, so so some of our big users are the agricultural community in it. And it’s not only the cropland, which they use our data, a lot of it for planting as well as compute evapotranspiration (ET). So we’ve got a couple methods to calculate ET. And we’ve been developing some products for like irrigation scheduling based off of Penman-Monteith calculations. So that’s one that’s one avenue, where it’s used as well as some of the other water users like Bureau of Reclamation, is another user. The other part of that is drought that then that’s probably the big kicker to get us funding was, we don’t have enough information about mainly Precipitation (Precip). Precip is sparse, and very localized specially when we get, you know, a 1/3 to a 40% of our annual rainfall, precipitation from summer monsoons. It’s like spotty, here and there. And as well as many other western states that our radar is, doesn’t cover everywhere really well. And there’s some real mountain blocks that the radar doesn’t really see it sees it but it’s like a 10,000 or more feet above the ground, and in a lot of times, underestimate what’s actually there. So the the drought community has really been our big user right now. And it’s really I’ve always used the word drought when I’m putting in an abstract or a legislative bill language. And, you know, emergency management comes in as well, you know, disasters, which can come in all seasons in New Mexico as well as other places, you know, with ice storms, snow, and a lot of other places in the southwest, we get dust storms and dust storms, we have to have that high wind component as well as the drought combination and disturbed soils. And that sort of that getting getting more in situ measurements of that is has been key in the National Weather Service (NWS) has been really keen on that.

Much of the western North America is in the middle of a mega drought. How is New Mexico been affected by drought? You know, how is it currently affected by drought,

Our agricultural users in the past have dipped into surface water from the Rio Grande, Pecos River, Cimarron, New Mexico has high elevations to the North and it goes slopes down lower elevation to the south and southeast. And so there’s water flowing from north to south. We get a lot of water from Colorado, we dip a little bit into the Colorado River system, the basin and so we end with an extended drought like pretty much been in this one since around around 1999 or so. And we really see that if you ever visit New Mexico, you know visit some of the reservoir especially some of the bigger ones like elephant view, we’re down to like 7% of capacity. You know and we’ve only go up to like 30 or 40% That’s kind of the sign for you know the becoming more arid in the area. That water is big deal as well as the drying of soils higher temperatures, even though you get More precipt evaporates fast. And as well as having spring dry season, you know, having more dust storms, you know, that’s, that’s, that’s a big deal here. And it’s impacted a lot of folks. And it’s, we’ve been doing a lot of work in that area using in situ, as well as remote sensing.

So you talked about your in situ measurements, what are the kinds of setups that you have at these various weather stations?

Yeah, so we got several, several types, we have a project right now with the New Mexico Department of Transportation in there, they’ve been concerned with accidents. And there’ve actually been, unfortunately, been some fatalities on the interstates, this is i-10, because of dust it’s basically just you can’t see the visibility goes practically down to zero, you barely see one car length for a minute or two. And that’s when we see the accidents and then so they’ve been really working over the last, you know; 5-6-7 years on how to mitigate that hazard. They’ve called up our office to add more meteorological measurements. So you know, looking at winds and they they’ve also added in their own roadway information system that gets real time data. We’ve also put in a particulate measurements, aerosol concentrations, as well as particle counters, you know, that collect data on a minute averages, we have several devastations on one of the problem areas in western New Mexico to basically document and to know how severe and we also use cameras. So we use time lapse cameras to provide that semi quantitative information, we collect an image every 10 seconds. So we get a sense of like movies of dust storms, and we’ve got about six years of 10 minute data to get a sense of the dynamics, how dust storms behave, how far you can see we use like, you know, the fences, the barbed wire fences count how many posts can you see in Mmm, it’s really bad, you can can’t even see the next post. And it’s actually it’s gotten that bad in some places. And then it kind of pegs out our, our optical dust measurements at times. And we’ve been starting to use soil moisture measurements, you know, every soil is different and underneath the stations, but it’s sort of that, you know, if it does rain, a 10th of an inch, or even a 100th of an inch, how long does it take for that to dry out the evaporation, soil evaporation process to see dust again. And we found that evaporation is really rapid. And it takes just a days rain and then it’s ready for dust emission the next day and some some cases. So it does it’s not really you know, wetting, the ground doesn’t really help a lot, in some cases, because of that, that heating that diurnal heating, intense heating. So it’s that learning process, you know, for us as a aerosol weathers person, climate person, it’s that, you know, so we talked to the soil people about that and say, oh, yeah, that makes sense. But but actually haven’t data to support them.

So with this network, are you trying to get into weather and climate prediction and forecasting, as opposed to just seeing what is happening at one time at one spot?

that has been on my mind over time is once you get enough data in, and it’s sort of like question is how much is enough? You know, it’s is getting enough dust storm events to create some statistics. And also, we’ve been asking around about using machine learning methods, training these systems to identify when they occur, and then knowing when when we use like cameras, we know for sure that dust occurs. Now what did the data look like before that, you know, what was the preceding; 10 minutes? Hour? Several hours before that, can we see any pattern emerging, and that’s kind of the direction we’re heading. We just started dabbling into that with classifying some of the imagery using some machine learning methods. That’s a whole other, that’s out of my skill area, you know, with the computer science aspect to that. I think the future is using those kinds of methods to help out I know, there’s there’s ways to, to look at deterministic methods, you know, sort of looking at like a High-Resolution Rapid Refresh (HRR) forecast model, combined with radar and other in situ Mesonets, you know, that that that has a definite role. But I think that’s complementary is using the data approach coming in from the data, what does the data seeing as opposed to looking at Mesoscale models, you know, like the Dwarf model, and I think there’s, there’s roles for both.

Yeah, yeah. I had a question about dealing with variability. So for our audience who have never been to New Mexico, it is not all desert. Like you might have seen on TV or in film. It does have a great deal of topographic, geographic, and climatological variability you have, it’s moving from the Great Plains into the Rocky Mountains, Colorado Plateau, there are deserts, hot and cold deserts. But does this present more of a challenge to you? Or is it something where you’re saying, Yes, let’s go let’s figure out what’s going on in New Mexico with the great variability that we do see there?

Just of note that there are no saguaro’s in New Mexico. You know, that’s a lot of times I see pictures of the desert with a wily coyote with the saguaros cactus, there are no saguaros in New Mexico, I mean there are people who put them in their front yards from Arizona. But anyway, I thought I would mention that because we never owned a cactus. But yeah, you’re right. You know, we’ve got eight climate divisions and in Mexico, for all the way from Alpine to the lower elevations to desert Chihuahuan desert to the basically looks like Southern Great Plains, to Texas. We dip into little bit of the severe weather into eastern New Mexico, not as much as Great Plains, but we had tornadoes come close to our weather stations. And I’ve looked on the radars like oh, there’s, there’s a tornado about a mile away from our station. So we don’t get very many of those in New Mexico, we have different types of weather hazards. But you know, when like, right now we’re looking into snow. While our highest weather station is at 10,000 feet above sea levels, you know, we get quite a bit of variability, we dip into the Mexican monsoon in the summer, northeast part of the state very much looks like the Texas panhandle at sometimes when we get these backdoor cold runs dipping in and goes below zero Fahrenheit. We just had a meeting last week to look at dust on snow that basically accelerates the melt out of snowpack in the spring in the San Juan Mountains of Colorado. And so the dust sources are in Arizona and New Mexico primarily. And so you know, when we see a dry signature drought years, when coupled with a lot of storm tracks heading over that area over the four corners, we get those events, that’s another challenge, we get, you know, to neighboring state that we’re impacting it, which actually impacts us because it changes the hydrology of our water surface water that flows down to the southern part of the state. So it’s a feedback mechanism that we’re seeing in especially concerning with a changing climate. If we see more drying out of our soils and coupled with land use practices that may encourage more disturbance.

I was going to ask you, where are you seeing that New Mexico is vulnerable?

Right now we’re dealing with a Double Dip La Nina. And it sort of gives us a taste of what some of our climate models are showing as a potential futures. And so it’s sort of that, okay, we’re seeing this really dry signal warming, early melt out less snow, more rain type of scenarios in our inner mountain stream, you know, our headwaters to some of our rivers. And when I give talks, I talk about that, you know, we’re seeing this signal. Now, this current one right now is from La Nina. Plus, on top of that a warming signal from changing climate. We just finished the report, we as a bunch of folks and academics for the interstate stream commission in New Mexico to look at a 50 year water plan, we kind of put our heads together and say, Yeah, this is what the climate is going to be looking like when we get these Latinas, you know, it’s not exactly but it’s that kind of signal we’re seeing. And it basically brings out the vulnerabilities of our systems in, you know, with, especially with agriculture, you know, we’ve we’ve, a lot of our agricultural policies and practices came about when we had a much wetter climate in the 80s, 90s, when we actually filled the Elephant Butte reservoir to its 2 million acre a feet. And now we’re just barely less than 10% of that, seeing that, you know, those vulnerabilities pop up a cones in the south and chilies and other crops, you know, and have to rely on groundwater, you know, and so there’s a lot of challenges with that, as well as a lawsuit that New Mexico is in right now. There’s Legal Policy, environmental, and social issues all come together. And that’s kind of climate change wrapped up is all those together. It’s not just science, it’s how we react and what do we do? And it’s building those adaptation plans, you know, so how do we adapt to this? Do we need to change crops? You know, those big questions, you know, it’s livelihoods, and we’ve been doing things and cultures, you know, work with some tribal groups, and it’s sort of that, you know, how do we view this in terms of the tribal view, you know, indigenous knowledge and digging into what we’ve learned in the past? We need to look at that again. And seeing how do we do this as a 21st century society, you know, with things that were different than 100 years ago or 200 years ago, but we started They have knowledge of what things could look like in the climate community says, Yeah, this is very likely this is what’s going to happen. So we better figure out the vulnerabilities of how this works, you know, with whether it be drying soils, being able to struggle more raising cattle in certain areas. Is that feasible in certain areas? Are we going to have to deal more with hazards on dust storms in these areas? Is the health community going to really be alerted when these events occur, you know, not only for dust, but wildfire, smoke is the big deal. All over the West, as you know, you know, in the Pacific Northwest, it’s not going away. Sounds like it’s going to be increasing. So those are vulnerabilities. It’s it’s, it’s multi threaded, and probably one of our biggest challenges is that, you know, we can put together climate scenarios and downscale and have fun with all those, but it ends up what are we going to do with that information?

So you mentioned this double dip and La Nina and other climactic effects on weather patterns; are you seeing that within the monsoons, with the effects on their seasonality or their intensity of those weather events?

Well we really haven’t seen a noticeable signal in the monsoon yet, however, because of the warming temperatures, I think that needs to be looked at a little more in terms of things like flash drought, and things quickly involving drought. Because of high temperatures, those are on our watch list, we need to really look at it over time, and to see how much change there but we haven’t really seen that yet in terms of loss of precipitation, but it’s that don’t warming temperature to hunt that trends above average, like we’ve been seeing this in urban areas, you know, we work a lot with in urban heat, and how it affects people. And that’s a big area, I think that we’re working with our Risa program with university Arizona in New Mexico here, claim is on. So how do we adapt to urban heat island plus climate change those on top of each other? And then, you know, we’ve had some really near record breaking temperatures, as well as other places like last year, seeing it in the northwest, what do we do from the climate community side of how do we help out with those programs in terms of cooling, and how to think of the social issues of people who don’t have access to air conditioning, which there are quite a few actually, when it’s like 107 outside, it’s 107 inside to you know, if you’re have, you know, a respiratory problem, that’s a big red flag, especially if it’s a multi day event, you know, and they’re living in an area where there’s no relief at all pavement and concrete, very little trees, so that you don’t get you don’t even get shade, you know, other than your house, you know, those are the kinds of issues that are really popping up now and looking at on their future. And we needed to address those now. And we have to use sensors inside people’s houses, and as well as outside urban heat island. How bad is it, as well as the other things that go on to exasperate like ozone? You know, on top of high temperatures?

How do you get around working with urban heat islands in arid environments? I mean, you can’t really just xeriscape your way out of it. You know, and and if your your concern if you’re trying to plant trees, well then that brings in the whole idea of water use and water scarcity. What are your thoughts on that?

We modified the microclimates by adding, you know, all these surfaces that radiate heat store heat differently than the natural environment. And, and so the lot of the city’s sustainability directors and other cities have brought in ideas on more trees. But yeah, you’re right. I mean, it’s sort of you know, it has to have the right kind of trees who are adapted to more arid environments, as opposed to ones you can bring in from Mississippi, which look great, but you have to have a lot of water to keep those going, and so, and the bottom line is you have to have the community buy in on this as well, you know, the city can do things and we got to have to buy in from the community members and to help out and to support these things, because it’s public money. I live in Las Cruces, and we have issues with urban heat island here and it’s everybody’s, their backyard or front yard, you know that it adds up, you know. One lawn is not big deal, but if you have 20-30,000 lawns and backyards, it makes a difference. What tools do we have? If we enacted this for new building having shade or xericape how much does this make a difference in the overall microclimate of your city? How can we utilize sensors and remote sensing to say, is there any changes? What’s our bound? How much change in temperature can we do for amount of effort? It translates into dollars, whether it’s the city doing it or elders, so those are some really big questions and a lot of times we don’t even know some of the answers. Right now. We don’t really know how much things change inch, you know, read some articles and are even local here we looked at changing the albedo of some of the surfaces, you know, it’s gonna cost more. But is that really worth it? Is the albedo really changed the environment, the radiative balance in that neighborhood, or does it just impact, a meter or two from the road? Does it really go into the houses you know, that larger scale and how much will it take if we wanted to use that kind of technology? Or is it that’s just one piece, we need to involve a lot more than that? I have a feeling it’s going to be a lot of things we have to do. And not just one thing, there’s no silver bullet for these things. And we have to track them. So we need, we’ve been talking with a lot of folks, and there’s a need for more. You know, we’ve been putting Mesonet stations out of the urban heat island. But I think there is a there’s a role for actually having networks that that measure the urban heat islands that are urban in nature in special purpose for monitoring the heat that we eat. If you’re sitting at a bus stop or walking in or near a park, I think there’s a need for having those datasets to know what’s our baseline. Now, there’s going to be heavily influenced by the urbanized areas. But it’s data.

New Mexico is home to a relatively large indigenous Native American population. How have your efforts gone in including tribal leaders or tribal governments into the climate discussion as a whole in New Mexico.

So we’ve got numerous tribes in New Mexico and we have one in El Paso, we’ve partnered with several tribal agencies, their department natural resource, and even the agriculture. When I first started here, we engaged tribal, Navajo Nation, as well as some of the Apache, Mescalero, as well as Jicarilla and you know, we’ve helped them and volunteered our time, you know, science fairs, and just kind of getting ourselves known. And, you know, just letting people know, you know, we have an ally with the state climate office, we partnered a lot with like the Southwest Climate hub as USDA southwest climate hubs. And they’ve also been great partners and getting the word out, we’ve got a drought Learning Network program with tribal governments, and then working also with South Central Climate Science adaptation Center in Oklahoma, you know, partnering with them as well. And there’s a lot of activity going on in tribal work and climate and air quality, you know, they have the same issues. They have their own governments, sovereign nations, but they have needs as well that we can we can help out it’s a two way road, because if they have data, we could put a data point where I know what, with how much precipitation or the temperatures are in that area, if they can share the data. You know, we use that in some of our drought monitoring workgroup for the state of New Mexico and getting that information from tribes. It’s been really helpful.

That kind of flows into the next section talking about CoCoRaHS and this idea of citizen science network that’s going on. Can you discuss a little bit about CoCoRaHS and what it is, and its main drivers and goals?

So if you’re not familiar with CoCoRaHS, it just stands for Community Collaborative Rain Hail and Snow network. And it’s um got started up in Fort Collins, Colorado, a number of years ago, and we started doing CoCoRaHS right around 2005. It’s a citizen science, anybody can participate. And it’s precipitation. It’s all well, it’s all we do is measuring rain, hail and snow. And it’s a daily measurement is pretty much same time that Co Op observers take their data. And it’s, you know, a $40 ring gauge. That’s the investment other than your time to go out there and measure rain, hail and snow. Over time, we’ve started off small, you know, we’ve really hit the recruitment wagon and did a lot of outreach. You know, I took it over, as a state coordinator, from Leann DeMuse, who’s really got it going from 2005. We just kept on going and not looking back. We’ve got the National Weather Service Forecast Offices as also regional coordinators. And then we’ve been trying to get county coordinators, we got 33 counties in New Mexico. And so it’s grown. We’re on the order of 500 observers, and we’ve got about 1000 registered more than actually, in and on when we get monsoon pops up. We can get up to 600 people across New Mexico to enter their data. And it’s not only when it rains but also when it doesn’t rain. So that’s one of the big things that CoCoRaHS is as a byproduct is is drought. We tell people we have we call them zero heroes, because if they report when there’s no rain in the southwest, that’s really important because we need to know how long what’s the time between the last last rainfall, you know, we can get like 90 days, some years hit 90 days between the last rain, you know, we can tell, and for the National Weather Service their eyes and ears for what goes on, and a lot of them are Skywarn trained. So they get them really involved in weather. You know, we’ve gotten a lot of a lot of retirees and key partners and CoCoRaHS. And in recently with, you know, in New Mexico, we’ve got a lot of range open range. So a lot of our ranchers are key CoCoRaHS observers and a really appreciate them, because they have they’re in some of the more sparse areas, we got a lot of people in urban areas, which is great. It’s one of the densest networks. I’ve seen long term, but we really treasure those who are out out in, you know, their nearest neighbor is 20 miles.

How would interested individuals get involved with CoCoRaHS?

Yeah, so joining CoCoRaHS is free. We have a great website CoCoRaHS.org it’s CoCoRaHS.org. And there’s a link on the upper right, it says join. And I’ll just fill out just a few things, you know, your email, your name, your location, and then get a gauge. That’s pretty much all you need to do. And then there’s a there’s some videos or nerves a PowerPoint, that kind of gives you that what and how and things like that. But it’s really simple. We’ve been getting county extension agents to do this. We’ve got soil water conservation districts helping out with this. So it’s not only citizens, but it’s also some government agencies. We even had a newspaper participate in CoCoRaHS. So getting their own data in their parking lot. So there’s there’s no excuse. Yeah,

that’s right. I was interested in coming back to to dust pollution, you had mentioned some of the mitigative measures that might be employed to help with dust pollution. I was wondering if you could go into a bit more detail about preventative and mitigative measures when it comes to to dust?

Yeah, so the recipe for these dust storms, of course, you’ve got the environmental, lack of precipitation, high winds. But then there’s also the soil component, you know, dry soils as well as disturbance level. You know, as I go out and survey some of our, our weather stations to do maintenance or some of our dust control area projects. It’s amazing. Depending on the type of management, the land cover management makes a big difference. I won’t mention any names or anything but like sort of this areas where I can see on one side of the fence has been over grazed. And then on the other side of the fence is they’ve they’ve limited animal interaction and letting the grass grow up when the wind blows. You can see the dust coming off that overgrazed area, large quantities in very little or none coming off of the protective cover, where there’s some vegetation on it not saying anything about the negatives of animals or anything, but it’s sort of how do we manage that to minimize dust in certain areas. I’ve done some tours and some ranches where they’ve addressed that knowing that there’s wind erosion, which is a loss of the organic layers on the top, they really wanted to keep the soil down. So they changed their management of how the grass grows and moving them around moving animals around letting the grass grow up, and then going, you know, moving them. So there’s like a lot of different ways of doing that. It all depends on you know, who’s doing it, it’s a difficult problem to manage. You know, we’ve seen small areas that actually gone into desertification. And I’ve toured China, and other places where it’s actually that it looks very similar to it. It’s like dunes, you know, shoveled down almost a meter and it’s just sand. And it’s not where we used to be. Right, yeah, you know, gradually you reach down to the soil, in some of the areas where the sand is built up as high as the barbed wire fences is going to take a lot of work to bring that down to bring soil quality to suit to hold vegetation again. I’ve toured those places, and it’s, I’ve actually seen those come up very quickly in some areas. Especially in Great Southern Great Plains. We have a listserv for droughts in occasionally we’ll get pictures of, you know, the panhandle of Oklahoma and or southern Kansas where there was no cover ground cover on some pivot irrigation areas, and that has popped up in that little little patch. You know, so we’re seeing that, you know, the Dust Bowl, and there’s one acre. Yeah, yeah, they can come up, come up pretty quickly. There’s all kinds of solutions, but it’s a matter of, you know, doing them and we talked about and then the health communities and bringing people in, you know, we’ve got a lot of tools and resources out there, but it’s ultimately the line managers. Whoever’s managing is as the key. Right, right.

You mentioned in passing a while ago Haboobs for those that aren’t familiar with the term, can you describe what they are really quickly?

Yeah, so haboob is just an Arabic word. Nothing fancy. It’s basically you’ve probably seen pictures of them. It’s a wall of dust. If you haven’t never seen that, go watch the same movies.

Right? Yeah, the stereotypical duster, right? Yeah.

You know, this wall of dust coming through. And, you know, Phoenix is probably famous for one of the more famous places in the US for, for these walls of dusts. And they’re, they’re basically from convective thunderstorms out there. The outflow from the thunderstorms creates this high wind gusts front basically blows over a Roadable area, and it’s a clearly defined wall of dust, and it could be 1000 feet high. And you can see them on radar that you can see the outflow boundary and it’s, if you’re there, you can see it, there’s a wall and it’s kind of emanates out radially from the thunderstorm. And so we get these every summer. Phoenix’s are famous for him, but we’ve seen him in southern New Mexico, we are in our time lapse network, they occur pretty often, actually, in the range lands when there’s lots of disturbed areas, you kind of classify them as like a dry microburst. And then sometimes there’s a wet microburst or even rain right after these. So it’s that you can classify them very narrowly within a kilometer. But they can also be large. And like the, there’s a, they get on, like on the Southern Great Plains, you can get these haboobs that are more from frontal, their outflow, or they’re more frontal systems, and those are big third, like county wide, or even several counties, you know, the kind of traditional, the black and white pictures of the dust bowls, different types, different classification, then the Phoenix kinds.

Okay, final subjects, and this is one that we talk about quite often, or at least we try to on this podcast, and that’s dealing with public education and outreach. What are some of the methods that you’ve seen as being successful or maybe not as successful? I know that you’re relatively active on social media, with the climate office and other things, sometimes it seems that it becomes, you know, just an echo chamber, and everybody’s retweeting each other as opposed to really reading the word outside of, of our own community. So I’m just wondering, your thoughts on on that?

Where do people get their information, that’s kind of where we started from, and it ranging in topics from climate change, to just weather, you know, forecasts, to outlooks, you know, for agricultural communities, to kids, you know, that whole spectrum, the whole ages, age groups, and, you know, we didn’t do any fancy polls or anything like that. But we, I usually just like, kind of ask people, when I’m out and about, and that’s kind of one of the things is just getting out out in the office, you know, and it’s been hard to pass a year and a half or so with COVID. But most of us have mastered zoom. Whether you like it or not, it is a tool, you know, I can, you know, instantly talk to somebody and across the state where it’s a seven hour drive, they may not like to be on Zoom, but it’s a way to talk to people, and it’s that contact getting into face to face meetings now. But whether you’re online or in person, it’s you know, getting to know people and their what are they struggling with? What are they’re happy about? What are the issues and just talking about climate and weather in agriculture, you know, we talked about the freezes. And when the last frost or the when this first freeze is going to be in, you know, the extremes are another big thing. So there’s, there’s a lot of things to get to icebreakers to get conversation started, you know, I don’t almost never talk directly about climate change first, you know, I always like to kind of get a even ground and in terms of, you know, what are you seeing, you know, what has it been, like, how has this year been? And if there are producers, what kind of things have they’ve seen compared to other years? And, and we may not even get to climate change on, you know, in some of the conversations and, and I think that’s good. I think that’s, I mean, we may get it if we’re to that point where I’ve maybe talked to him a little longer to get a sense of where they are, I’ll I’ll likely bring up climate change and I don’t want to alienate people and because it has turned into a politicized topic, and so I’d rather talk more about what big on their radar what’s impacting them, what are they concerned about? And then I like to eventually talk about ways they can help. And a lot of people said, yeah, how can I help? You know, what, what can I do? And then I’ll direct them toward resources or if they’re gung ho, I’d say yeah CoCoRaHS you know, there’s, there’s a way to take your own measurements and report and be part of the community of observers, as part of the volunteer network in drought has been, has been a really good icebreaker these days. You know, I talk a lot people in northern New Mexico with very different experiences than southern New Mexico all there are some things in common. You know, social media has played a big role in that, you know, we’ve got several Twitter accounts, I have nm climate, and then I have a student doing CoCoRaHS nm_CoCoRaHS. We, and we try to my students been really good about it, but probably even much better than I have in pushing with in CoCoRaHS observations through their followers. And we’ve also started Instagram just kind of pushing a bunch of pictures and go out doing station maintenance for Ziamet. I’ll post a picture just to let them know that there’s a station in this part of this county. And we’re out there maintaining these things, changing the rain, gauge oil and when were out there we’ll post pictures of dust storms and haboobs and outflow and things like that just as a way to to engage people talk more about and it’s really helped out. Sometimes it will follow a lot of the media outlets and they’ll they’ll tag and then get a radio interview or TV or just a newspaper article. Even if it’s only a paragraph. That’s great. We’re talking about CoCoRaHS. I’ll bring that up. And then maybe even Ziamet, you know, as I know, there’s another way to get data. You know, we’re trying to connect people with the weather.gov community to say, here’s your here’s this great source of weather information for forecast.

Okay, our time is up for today. Thank you again, Dave, for joining us. And we really appreciate you taking time to talk to us. And it definitely has been a really interesting conversation on climate change and weather observation and environmental research there in the state of New Mexico. And if you in the audience have any questions about this topic or want to hear more, feel free to contact us at metergroup.com or reach out to us on Twitter @meter_env. And you can also view the full transcript from today in the podcast description. That’s all for now. Stay safe, and we’ll catch you next time on We Measure the World.

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