Mid Continental Land Mass

Jacob Schor, ND

November 18, 2016


Walking the dog through freshly fallen snow along the Highland Canal just now, watching as she snuffled with her nose plowing a trail of snow as she tracked a rabbit, I recall my geography professor back at Plattsburgh State College in the early 1970s talking about ‘mid-continental-land mass’ temperature fluctuations and why they exhibit extreme fluctuations.  “Places like Colorado, Wyoming, Montana in our country, Siberia in Russia, areas far removed from the temperature moderating affects of the oceans, are prone to far greater fluctuations in temperature.  They will experience the coldest temperatures in winter and the hottest temperatures in summer of anyplace.”


Colorado is certainly prone to temperature fluctuations, often in very short time intervals.  This week was a prime example.  We went from a record high temperature of 81 degrees F. on Wednesday to this morning’s low of 21 with a blizzard in between


Knowing that our seemingly endless summer was about to end, I drove down to Cherry Creek Reservoir Wednesday afternoon with my wooden kayak for a last of the season paddle about.  I suppose if I had checked the weather first I would have known that Thursday’s snow storm was already descending; though still warm when I put in, the high winds were intense, raising waves across the lake.  It’s hard to imagine Cherry Creek as having waves with whitecaps and blowing spray.  I would insert a photo, but to tell the truth I was hesitant to put down my paddle to pull out a camera.  I just paddled.  I quickly discovered my plan for a timid shoreline trip wouldn’t work with the wind so instead headed straight upwind, northwest from the put in, bucking the waves.  With the bow crashing down and water running up over the deck as I crested each wave, I was having jolly good fun as long as I didn’t try to turn around.  I followed my heading across the lake until I reached the far shore that provided shelter from the wind, came about and headed back to the car, this time with the wind at my back, surfing along with the larger waves. 


Halfway across I stopped paddling to watch a large bird soaring by.  White tail plume, white head, I wondered if it were an eagle.  As if it had heard my wonderings, the bird banked and came back toward me, circled once and then hit the brakes, wings beating a back stroke so as to hover directly above me.  Definitely an eagle, a bald eagle.  Looking down at me as if I could somehow be dinner.  Then with a flap the eagle resumed it’s journey north to wherever eagles go.


And now snow.  A 60 degree shift.  Typical weather for a mid continental-land-mass or at least so they say.


Our summer weather has certainly gotten warmer. “This year, the average temperature in Denver for June, July and August was 72.7 degrees — 1.5 degrees higher than the annual average of 71.2 dating to 1872,” is what the Denver Post reported this past September. (http://www.denverpost.com/2016/09/22/front-range-climate-change-heat/ )


Atypical weather isn’t just weird, it seems to spawn weird behavior. 


A paper by Dixon and Kalkstein published Novermber 7, 2016,  links increases in suicide rates with warmer than average temperatures. [1] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27822625


Though seasonality and day length still seems to be the larger predictor of suicide rates. [2]



Though it’s not really temperatures as much as what are called anomalous temperatures that are linked, that is when temperatures are out of the ordinary, anomalies, that suicide rates go up. [3]  https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25402561



Of course suicides are an extreme in behavior, but they are easy to measure in contrast to people just acting weird or stupid.  I suppose Twitter might create an App that ranks daily posts by weirdness and by location and we might look for an associattion between those measures and temperature anomalies.


Yet seriously, do we need to? 


Two summers ago Bourque and Willox wrote,


“…. climate change and related weather events and environmental changes can profoundly impact psychological well-being and mental health through both direct and indirect pathways, particularly among those with pre-existing vulnerabilities or those living in ecologically sensitive areas. Although knowledge is still limited about the connections between climate change and mental health, evidence is indicating that impacts may be felt at both the individual and community levels, with mental health outcomes ranging from psychological distress, depression and anxiety, to increased addictions and suicide rates. Drawing on examples from diverse geographical areas, this article highlights some climate-sensitive impacts that may be encountered by mental health professionals.” [4]


Berry, Bowen and Kjellstrom proposed something similar in 2010, writing, “Different aspects of climate change may affect mental health through direct and indirect pathways, leading to serious mental health problems, possibly including increased suicide mortality.” [5]


I would paste inmore quotes  like these but it’s kind of tedious doing the footnoting.  It’s easy to assume that people’s thoughts are their own and their worries are self generated, but some blame may be exogenous, a result of the weather.  How weird is that?







1. Int J Biometeorol. 2016 Nov 7. [Epub ahead of print]

Where are weather-suicide associations valid? An examination of nine US counties with varying seasonality.

Dixon PG1, Kalkstein AJ2.


2.   BMJ Open. 2015 Jun 3;5(6):e007403. doi: 10.1136/bmjopen-2014-007403.

Does suicide have a stronger association with seasonality than sunlight?

White RA1, Azrael D2, Papadopoulos FC3, Lambert GW4, Miller M2.


3.  Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2014 Nov 13;11(11):11627-44. doi: 10.3390/ijerph111111627.

Association of weekly suicide rates with temperature anomalies in two different climate types.

Dixon PG1, Sinyor M2, Schaffer A3, Levitt A4, Haney CR5, Ellis KN6, Sheridan SC7.


4.  Int Rev Psychiatry. 2014 Aug;26(4):415-22. doi: 10.3109/09540261.2014.925851.

Climate change: the next challenge for public mental health?

Bourque F1, Willox AC.


5.  Int J Public Health. 2010 Apr;55(2):123-32. doi: 10.1007/s00038-009-0112-0. Epub 2009 Dec 22.

Climate change and mental health: a causal pathways framework.

Berry HL1, Bowen K, Kjellstrom T.