Nolan Doesken

Talking about the weather with Colorado’s state climatologist.

If you met Nolan Doesken on the street, you might conclude from his wry humor, his weather-worn face, and his methodical way of speaking about clouds and average snowfall that he’s a farmer. You’d be half right about that (he and his wife do own farmland), but his passion for weather and position as Colorado’s state climatologist has—more often than he likes—made him the bearer of bad news.

What does your best day look like?
Probably a winter day. The university is closed with a major snow storm. But I come to the office anyway. The phone is ringing off the hook. And it’s people calling to ask when was the last time we had a storm like this and how does it compare? I guess any day that the weather is a frontpage news story is a good day because that means bad news isn’t on the front page.

Worst day?
[Record dry/wildfire year] 2012 was really this nightmarish year. If anything really makes me feel bad, it’s drought. That’s when what we do is really important.

How hard is it predicting long-range weather?
People have always wanted from a climatologist to be able to get a handle on whats coming next. In the past, there was no expectation that there would be a fundamentally different future, but there would be a variable future because we know from the past that we have ups and downs. More recently there’s more a sense of, “Ohh… we’ll have ups and downs but we’re also heading in a warmer direction.” And that part is actually easier to predict than the ups and downs.

What about the politics of climate change?
It’s definitely become a more interesting area because you don’t know if you’re going to offend somebody when you say something. That never used to be a concern. What’s interesting is there was a 10- or 15-year period of [me] being really careful. And now it’s like, who cares? I don’t know if that’s because I’m older or because it’s so convincing now, so compelling that I’m less concerned about that. We’ve had three out of only the last 15 or 16 summers that have been on the cooler side. All the others have been on the warmer side.

Are you hopeful that climate change could be reversed?
To a degree. I don’t know that it could be totally reversed but I think we could reach a livable equilibrium.

You’re still smiling though.
Yeah. We’re not a dramatically changed climate, we’re a subtly changed climate. In winter, a little bit warmer feels pretty good. Even the snowpack hasn’t been appreciably changed.

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