Who We Are: Ric Bly, the weather guy
summit daily news
To the outside observer, Ric Bly is just an average guy.
He lives in a nondescript clapboard house overlooking Breckenridge Ski Resort with his wife. His kitchen is tidy, as is his attire and his notes on the weather he’s observed at 8 a.m. every morning for 35 years.
“We’re an interesting lot,” he said jokingly. “We drive ’55 Chevys and shop between 1 and 3 in the afternoon and never make a left turn.”
But his work over the last three-and-a-half decades – albeit a side job – provides valuable information to the National Weather Service. To boot, he’s an emergency contact for the agency, to help them track when flash flooding is a possibility at lower elevations.
On his end, the job provides adventure, though his stories differ from those told at Summit County’s local watering holes.
They’re more along the lines of being asked to take a metal measuring stick down to the river to measure the swell during July’s 100-year storm, in which more than 3 inches of rain fell in a day and 83 bolts of lightning struck in the time a vehicle takes to drive from Farmer’s Korner to the French Creek neighborhood.
“I’d seen more than 1 inch of rain fall in 24 hours on five occasions,” Bly said, adding that 3.17 inches of rain is “at least double and close to triple what was ever recorded.”
By the way, he refused to take what was essentially a lightning rod to the riverbanks until the storm abated.
That month, Bly measured 7.15 inches of precipitation, which is the third-highest amount ever recorded in Breckenridge. Weather data date back to the 19th century and show the record for precipitation is 120 inches of snow in March 1899. By his calculations, if the rain keeps up and is followed by heavy snowfall, Summit County is on track to be the third wettest year since 1893.
“It was truly a 100-year weather event,” Bly said of the storm, admitting his excitement. “Yeah, sad as that is to say,” he said with a smile.
These may not be adventures to share at the bar, but they’re right up Bly’s alley.
His father was into weather-watching. He’d look at the moon at night and had a barometer.
Coming from a science background, Bly is interested in ecology and the interaction of clouds, winds, landscape and more to create weather. When he got the call from the weather service, he thought they wanted to hire him because of his science background. He declined at first, believing he couldn’t do the job. When they assured him “any upper primate can do the job,” and let him know they wanted him because he lived close to a deceased former weather observer, he accepted.
Bly is also into records.
“The dullest pencil is better than the sharpest memory,” he said, espousing his faith in records and belief in their importance.
“Because I’m a crazy guy, I go through the figures looking for patterns to excite me.”
Bly has noticed just one pattern in all his years of observing weather and reporting his measurements to the National Weather Service – and it has to do with snowfall.
Ten of the highest snowfall winters were preceded by above average precipitation in October. The other three had average precipitation and one was drier than usual.
“Seventy percent in weather predicting is a high number,” Bly said. “My primitive statistics at Briar Rose Lane indicate that October precipitation indicates weather (in winter).”
The pattern held true for last winter’s epic snowfall, which Bly measured at 228 inches, putting it as the second-snowiest winter on record.
In the winter of 1898-99, 377 inches of snow blanketed Breckenridge, forcing shop owners to dig tunnels across Main Street to access each other. Bly’s records show that 1903-04 had 206 inches of snow in town, and the 1995-96 season saw 204 inches. Everything else was under 200, with the average sitting around 160 inches.
Bly says his in-town records are a far cry from the more than 500 put down in the books for last season at Breckenridge Ski Resort.
“Not that it’s not possible,” he said. “I can’t say for sure and certain that ski areas are exaggerating, but … having statistics that go back to 1893, it would seem they are optimistic about what they report.”
Bly knows from meteorology classes that mountains drastically affect weather patterns, and even the slightest change in wind direction can change what happens downwind.
“In the mountains in particular, it’s just like sound that bounces around,” he said of the way weather works in the High Country.
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