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This Man Has Collected 44 Years of Weather Data. What Did He Learn?


“One winter, billy barr started collecting data from his home in the Colorado Rockies. Four decades later, his 12,000 records are a climate scientist’s goldmine.” – National Geographic

billy barr (he doesn’t use capital letters for his name) lives in Gothic, Colorado, one of the coldest places on the planet. He moved there as a young college student in environmental studies in 1973. The next winter, he began recording daily observations of his environment: high and low temperatures; total snowfall; snow depth, water content, and density; and when animals emerge, disappear, and migrate.

billy sits in front of the mining shack where he lived from 1973 to 1980. Although he’d lay in as many supplies as possible before the winter started, he still had to ski frequently into town to stock up. Photograph courtesy billy barr

He had no real goal in mind, other than to get to know where he was living, and to have something to do besides drink tea and read for 9 months of winter. “I enjoyed it and I was interested in it, so I kept it going, and after decades, all of a sudden it became useful to others,” he says.

A few years back, he started looking at his records more closely and he started seeing trends. He noticed that there were 67 record highs in the last three winters alone. He noticed that 48 percent of the record highs occurred after 2010 and 47 percent of the record lows occurred between 1974 and 1984. The snow pack has changed too with 8 days less of snow on the ground than in the past.

The old, dilapidated mining shack on the left, shown here in October 1977, was billy’s home for seven years. In the early winter, before the shack became insulated by snow cover, billy would keep his feet in the oven to stay warm. The photo on the right was taken in March of that same winter. billy’s shack was completely covered by snow. According to his records, Gothic saw 45 feet of snowfall over the course of the 1977-78 winter. Photograph courtesy billy barr

billy’s conclusion: “The climate’s changing whether you like it or not, whether you believe it or not. Looking at my records—it’s not a straight line. It’s 40-some years, not 400, but it is information.”

As someone who has had to learn to survive in such a harsh environment, billy shares some advice about how to move forward on our changing planet in this award winning National Geographic short film (4:53) from Day’s Edge Productions.

The Snow Guardian from Day’s Edge Productions on Vimeo.

If you’re as curious as I was about how someone lives in a place like Gothic, you’ll want to check out the National Geographic interview of billy. There’s a great story about the skunk who thought it should be one of his house guests when he was still living in the mining shack. And here’s a 1-minute video of Gothic in winter if you’d like even more. Enjoy!





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Kathy Voth
I am the founder, editor and publisher of On Pasture, now retired. My career spanned 40 years of finding creative solutions to problems, and sharing ideas with people that encouraged them to work together and try new things. From figuring out how to teach livestock to eat weeds, to teaching range management to high schoolers, outdoor ed graduation camping trips with fifty 6th graders at a time, building firebreaks with a 130-goat herd, developing the signs and interpretation for the Storm King Fourteen Memorial trail, receiving the Conservation Service Award for my work building the 150-mile mountain bike trail from Grand Junction, Colorado to Moab, Utah...well, the list is long so I'll stop with, I've had a great time and I'm very grateful.