How One Man's 40 Years of Weather Records Became a Treasure Trove of Climate Change Data

billy barr in Gothic, Colorado. Day's Edge Productions/YouTube

Meet billy barr — and yes, those are supposed to be lowercase letters. That's how he spells it. He's particular about details like that, and his attention to detail is exactly what has made him so beloved by the scientific community.

barr has spent the last 40 years living alone in a cabin in Gothic, Colorado, a snowy ghost town in the mountains and one of the coldest places in the United States. He has a garden, uses solar energy, and skis into a nearby town once every few weeks for supplies. He reads, drinks tea and watches Bollywood videos.

But what made him the subject of the short film "The Snow Guardian" (by National Geographic, above), was how he has spent the last 40 years collecting meticulous records about the weather in his neck of the woods — temperature changes, snowfall amounts, melting rates and more.

"I was also recording anything I saw — which wasn't much, it's pretty quiet in the winter — but I'd write down every single day what birds I saw, what mammals I saw. 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," barr told National Geographic.

What billy saw

barr started noticing weather trends among his 12,000 records, and he started adding his data to his webpage. He shared his research with a friend in the scientific community who was doing similar research around plant and flower progression. That's when they realized barr had a treasure trove of pristine climate change data in his possession.

Though when he started collecting data, there was no mention of climate change.

"Climate change hadn't really come up much until about 10 or 15 years ago. That was never brought into my data, other than that I would look at it and see obvious trends. Like, we have 67 record highs in the last three winters alone, and 48 percent of our record highs have been just since 2010. That's in 44 years of records. And 47 percent of my record lows are from the first 10 years I did this. These are trends," he said.

In the film, which was produced by Day's Edge Productions and selected by National Geographic’s Short Film Showcase, he talks about other obvious indications of climate change in Gothic. “We’re getting permanent snow pack later, and we get to bare ground sooner. We’ll have years where there was a lot of snow on the ground, and then we lose snow sooner than years that had a lot less snow just because it’s a lot warmer now."

His records have received much attention, but that doesn't change anything for barr. He's holding out hope for one thing: "I've been waiting for either Hollywood or Bollywood to call me, but they don't! I don't understand it."