Driest fall in 39 years, but donít panic yet
Written by Alissa Johnson   
Wednesday, 05 December 2012
Change in the weather pattern in the works

In a mountain town where December still finds us skiing on man-made snow, it’s tempting to turn wives’ tales into tidings of winter’s coming. There has been a white ring around the moon of late and crows have been gathering in trees. Surely the old sayings are true, and a hardy winter is nigh.

 

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But then there’s the saying that the thickened coats of horses, sheep, mules, cows and dogs forecast a particularly cold and snowy winter. The dog’s fur is extra thick this year, but it’s also shedding in clumps. Here at The News, we can’t find anything to help us make sense of that one. So we turned to a few Colorado prophets instead, who, if not overflowing with optimism, at least gave us hope and a few folkloric recipes for snow.

Embracing the anomaly
First, if you’re of the mind that it’s nice to ride your bike this time of year but also a bit odd, let us assure you: this Indian Summer is most definitely an oddity. Out at Gothic, Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory business manager billy barr just recorded the driest fall in 39 years. That means that out of 39 years of data, September through November ranked #39 out of 39 for snowpack and snowfall.
“The positive side of it is that in most of our heavier winters, we start out dry because the weather patterns miss us the first couple months of winter and then we get it starting to come through here, and in January, February and March we get hammered,” barr said.
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It’s not a sure thing—last year the weather pattern never changed, and as barr pointed out, no winter has ever started like this one—but it’s a pattern locals are banking on. The streets are filled with rumors that we never get two dry winters in a row, and the last big winter during 2007-2008 was dry until December 7. Then, the skies opened up.
On that particular snowy night, local historian Duane Vandenbusche almost got stuck in Salida, an occurrence that has become prophetic itself.
“On December 7, I drove by the Monarch Ski Area [on the way to give a talk in Salida] and there wasn’t any snow on the ground. By the time I finished my talk, Monarch was closed,“ Vandenbusche remembers. He had to drive over Cochetopa Pass to get home and almost didn’t make it. “That’s happened about four times, including this year, when I gave a talk at Monarch Ski Area and it snowed about three inches the next day.”

A change on the horizon
Meteorologist Joel Gratz also gave Colorado skiers a reason for optimism in his daily snow report on Monday, December 3. “I know you might be confused, so let me help,” he wrote of the morning’s light snow, “That white stuff falling from the sky is snow. SNOW! Wow. Ridiculous. Amazing!”
In an interview, he explained that the storm track has been pushing storms around us. “We’ve been in the wrong spot in regards to the storm track, which has provided a lot of snow to the north and west of us, and we’ve been in the same position for about a month,” Gratz said.
“At this point, the storm track is coming off the Pacific, and it’s going north of us so we are definitely on the warm side of things. As the storm track changes it will come off the Pacific Northwest and drop down close to Colorado and the central U.S. and allow cold air to drop down from Canada,” he continued.
In the short term, there’s a chance of “a little something” on Thursday, and a colder, more significant storm moving in late this weekend. That’s the storm that signals a change in the weather pattern.
“It doesn’t mean it will be snowy and cold all the time, but it’s at least changing so we will begin to see more consistent storms closer to mid-December,” he said.


Helping things along
For skiers hoping to give Mother Nature a boost, Vandenbusche went back to the history books for some tried and true methods. “In the early days of the Crested Butte ski area and the early days of Vail they brought a group of Ute Indians in from the Four Corners to do a snow dance,” he said.
In 1963 in Vail, for example, Many Cloud of the Cloud Clan led dancers to call upon the spirits of the land. And in spite of the smirks of skeptics, the history books report that the “Next day, says a believer, it snowed like hell.”
If it’s not in your power to bring in a Native American tribe to the region, try scheduling a talk for Vandenbusche in Salida. We’ve also read that sleeping with a silver spoon under your pillow can help, and here at The News, we like Murphy’s Law. If you put your bike back into storage in October, haul it out for one more ride. If you’ve been riding it every day, put it away for goodness sake.
As KBUT program director Chad Reich says, “I think that when people don’t put away their mountain bikes, it angers the snow gods.”