The fall colors have been incredible this year. I really didn't know what to expect after a long, hot summer with so little rain. The drought might have caused a disappointing fall season. But I don't remember a much nicer fall than this. The reds have been especially strong. The other day, riding the Flying Dog loop, the maples on the back side of Glenwild looked like streaks of flame on the hillside. It's been just beautiful, and if you haven't made time to get out and enjoy it close up, you certainly should.
Until this week's rain, the air has been smoky enough that the fall color has washed out over any distance. You really need to be right in the woods to enjoy it. There is still a while left. The aspen are just beginning to turn in some areas, and the reds seem to be holding on even with the rain and wind. This really is the best time of year here.
With fall winding down, and a little shot of snow on the peaks, the question on everybody's mind is what kind of winter we will have. There is a fair amount of anxiety about the coming winter. Two years ago, all kinds of records were broken. Then last year, it all swung to the other extreme and winter never quite happened. Without snow making, there wouldn't have been much skiing. So is Mother Nature back on her meds, or is she still clanging around in some kind of bi-polar fit?
This is the time of year when I make my survey of the hornet nests around the ranch. The old story goes that if they build high in the trees, there will be lots of snow, and if they build low to the ground, it will be a light winter. Over the years, that seems to have been fairly accurate. Not absolute - this is weather forecasting - but the hornets seem to have been about as accurate as scientists with gigantic computers, and for a lot less money.
The scientists and their computers are wishy-washy this year. I did a Google search of "Utah winter forecast 2013" and came up with the usual list of sites, along with ads for snow blowers and tropical cruises. Almanac.com came up with maps that showed temperatures above normal in the north, and cooler than normal in the south. For snowfall, they said it would be dry in the north and wet in the south. So when I looked at their map, the "north" bubble ends in Idaho, and the "south" bubble is pretty much south of Utah. That leaves us right in the great uncharted middle, suggesting "normal."
They all agree that an "el Nino" condition is setting up out in the ocean. That usually shifts the storms south, often too far south to do us much good. One website shows a map with us in a zone of above normal snowfall, but right on the fringe of it.
Weathercenterblog.com has page after page of scientific analysis with data pointing in all directions. Their conclusion is the same as others. An El Nino winter means wetter south, drier north, and Utah in the no-mans land in the middle. Could tilt either way.
The official map from Weathercentre.com (and I think the spelling of "centre" makes the whole operation suspect) was a little more encouraging. It shows Utah smack in the middle of a blob labeled "Good Mountain Snows." That's what we're looking for. But other areas are marked "Above Normal Snow," or "Wet and Cool." So in their rankings, I don't know what "Good Mountain Snows" means. Does it beat "Above Normal Snow?" They don't say. But at least we aren't in the area indicated as drier than normal.
The Farmers' Almanac website is also so general that it's hard to say. They take a region of 10 states and say it will rain in there, somewhere, on January 14th. They are generally right, in a very general way.
So the scientists seem to be pointing to a winter that is extremely normal, El Nino impacted, with good mountain snows, except where it is more or less. And they get paid for that.
Well, then, setting all that claptrap statistical analysis aside, what do the hornets have to say? Here's where things get weird. There are no hornet nests this year. Not high in the trees or low in the bushes. After missing last year's forecast so spectacularly, the embarrassed hornets have gone missing. There should be football-sized nests in the woods by now. I've looked for a couple of weeks, and there just aren't any. They've just packed up and gone.
What does that mean for the coming winter? Your guess is as good as mine.
Tom Clyde practiced law in Park City for many years. He lives on a working ranch in Woodland and has been writing this column since 1986.