More Dogs on Main
November 5, 2010
The countdown has started we’ll be skiing in two weeks at PCMR if the weather is even slightly cooperative. The big question is how much of the mountain will be covered by opening day. It could be anything from Payday on machine-made snow to a full opening depending on the weather and natural snow. Canyons is/are going to open on November 26. Deer Valley is set to open on December 4.
Canyons officially dropped "the" from their name this year. It didn’t catch on. Nobody calls it The Alta or The Deer Valley. So it is now officially "Canyons," according to their marketing department. It’s still awkward one of those words that sounds plural but isn’t, like pants and scissors. They’ve got too much invested in the brand to change the name of the place now, but the "the" wasn’t really the problem.
The big question this time of year, aside from whether the dry cleaner will have sold your coat that you never got around to picking up last spring, is what kind of snow we will have. Every year there are long-term forecasts offered by the various weather people on TV, and from experts relying on science and statistics. It seems like every year they also say pretty much the same thing. There are three kinds of winters: El Niño, La Niña, or Das Normal. Each of these conditions is defined by the water temperature in the Pacific Ocean and the location of certain currents. They apparently are highly predictive of the following winter’s conditions.
For example, with an El Niño winter, the southwest is much wetter than normal, the northwest is much drier than normal, and Utah is right smack in the middle of the two zones of abnormality, and is therefore predicted to be much more normal than normal. Contrast that with the La Niña condition, when the southwest is dry, the northwest is wet, and Utah is right smack in the middle of the two zones of abnormality, and is therefore predicted to be normal. In those years when there is neither a Niño nor Niña in the Pacific, and normal conditions prevail, Utah is right smack in the middle of all that normality, and all hell breaks loose. People get paid big money for this kind of work.
Based on years of observations, I’m pretty convinced there is no such thing as a normal winter. When you look at snow-pack and water-runoff totals, things are pretty consistent over time. But there is nothing consistent in how it gets there. Some years, the snow comes in frequent, steady, manageable doses. Other years there will be a couple of huge dumps followed by long dry spells. There are winters when I have to shovel the roofs on some of the older farm buildings. In other years they are fine on their own. The biggest snowstorm of the entire winter last year was in late May.
The hornet-nest theory that the higher up in the trees the hornets build their nests, the more snow there will be seems to have widespread acceptance. A few minutes with Google turned up hornet-based weather forecasts from all around the country. In some places (mostly where it doesn’t snow much) they think low to the ground means a hard winter, while the generally accepted view is that higher in the tree means more snow on the ground. But I could never find anybody who had taken the hornets’ predictive data and compared it back to what actually happened.
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I’ve kept a pretty detailed record of some things around my place first freeze, last freeze, when it snows in July and ruins the hay crop, that sort of thing. I’ve noted the hornet nests when there seems to be some anomaly in the nesting patterns, but never tested whether it predicted the winter. I tried to pull up real data on snowfall and runoff, but I couldn’t find data to match hornet nests against weather deviations. That would have required math. One thing is clear: They build their nests in different places. Some years they are in the treetops, some years they are low to the ground or about chest height. Other years they try to build inside buildings; in other years they are all outside. They all do the same thing.
They vary by size from year to year, too. Some years they are big as basketballs. This year, the few that I’ve seen are in the very tops of the trees, but are pretty modest in size. Apparently even the hornets are having a hard time financing larger houses.
The only thing I know for certain is that it hurts when they sting.
Tom Clyde practiced law in Park City for many years. He lives on a working ranch in Woodland, and has been writing this column for nearly 25 years.