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Wisdom from a weather whiz

John Duwe wants to teach you about the weather.

The program director of Durango Nature Studies leads workshops throughout the region on flora and fauna that thrive in the local environments. He teaches kids about winter ecosystems. He takes adults on strolling nature walks. He’s filled with knowledge:

Squirrels plant ponderosa pine trees.

Air temperature decreases about 3 degrees for every 1,000 feet you gain in elevation.

So when nine people showed up Saturday morning for Duwe’s weather workshop at Haviland Lake 20 miles north of Durango, they got a chance to see things through a different set of eyes.

“I want people to know that what you feel on the ground is not what you see in an icon or what you read as numbers on a website,” he said.

Duwe led the group up a wooded draw, pointing out the aspects of the sun’s reach – and the shade, a story told by snow. Searching the ground and the canopy above, he brought attention to the patterns of growth.

“The north pole is cold, and the equator is warm,” he said. “It’s almost the exact same reason there are Douglas fir on one side of the hill and ponderosa pine on the other.”

Duwe explained atmosphere as air kept close to Earth by gravity. Within the atmosphere is the jet stream, a current of air that meanders over Earth, west to east. A polar jet stream flows over much of the United States, and a tropical jet stream flows farther south. According to Duwe, the two repel each other like oil and water.

“We’re lucky to have four seasons,” he said, as a long-awaited snowstorm obscured Engineer Mountain and the Needle Mountains to the north.

On another short hike, Duwe found a ridgeline where he took weather measurements: temperature, 37 degrees; relative humidity; 41 percent; and wind speed, 5 mph – the wind speed just happens to be denim’s threshold.

He talked about reading the clouds by looking at their coverage, telltale signs that weather is coming, or going.

“Wind is cold,” he said, and spoke about evaporative cooling and convective heat loss. “Lick the back of your hand and hold it in the wind. You’ll see.”

The Durango Nature Center’s objective is to provide environmental education for folks in the Four Corners, and Duwe is doing that.

“We want to inspire community members to ask questions, to give people that chance to connect with nature,” he said. “It’s hard to care about something you don’t know exists.”

Walking down to the frozen expanse of Haviland Lake, where Bill Chandler led his son, Noah, a seventh-grader, out on the ice for the first time in his life, the wind chill was hard to ignore.

“You can just feel it,” Duwe said. The air temperature dropped 3 degrees. The humidity jumped 18 percent. Wind speed was 11 mph.

“Weather is so in you face,” he said. “Our daily lives are dictated, in a sense, by things we can’t see. It’s neat to open your minds while experiencing what we can that’s all around us.”

bmathis@durangoherald.com

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