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Tom Clyde: Winter weather forecast

This is normally the time of year when I go out on a limb and make my weather forecast for the coming ski season. It’s a process totally devoid of science. It’s all based on things like hornet nests and bird migration schedules. In other words, it’s a wild guess, just like the National Weather Service forecasts, except I don’t get paid for it.

There are a lot of websites that make long-range predictions. They are based on complicated computer models, maple syrup volume in Vermont, ocean temperatures in the Pacific, and hunches. They also are so general they are guaranteed to be right at least part of the time. "Days will begin to get shorter in October, then lengthen gradually in January, with periods of extreme cold weather except when it is unseasonably warm. Storms will be stormy, with periods of clearing." People actually pay for that.

Here’s one actual site’s prediction for Utah: "Winter temperatures will be above normal, with below-normal snowfall and with precipitation above normal north, below south." So in the north, there will be above normal precipitation resulting in below normal snowfall. Does that mean rain in January? They call for the snowiest periods to be early December, mid-February, and mid-March. That all seems good. There is a chart that shows some significantly above-normal snowfall in there, with average the rest of the time. And yet they conclude that it will be below normal.

So I go back to my usual forecasting tools. The most reliable indicator through the years has been the hornet nests. If they are big and high in the trees, it is supposed to be a cold winter with a lot of snow. If they are low in the trees or near ground level, it means less snow. If they are in the barn, it indicates smarter than normal hornets who build out of the weather. Through the years, I’ve found that to be sort of predictive, with a quality level about as good as the Weather Service. My niece is married to an actual meteorologist. He won’t predict beyond this afternoon, and does that by looking out the window. Four years in college statistics classes for that.

The problem this year is that there are no hornets. Normally, by this time of year, I would have a bunch of them around the ranch, usually right where I need to get past them to shut down an irrigation ditch. They like to build where they are in the path of a barn door that doesn’t get opened often. Hornet nests generally aren’t hard to find.

This year, there are no hornet nests. It might have something to do with the fact that the rain has been coming down like a fire hose the last couple of weeks. I measured three inches at my house over the last weekend, and that’s before bringing the gage inside because it is freezing at night. It would take a pretty determined hornet to build a paper nest that could withstand that. But even before the recent Biblical rains (the river at my house went from a typical 85 cubic feet per second to a spring runoff 700 cubic feet overnight), the hornets were still missing in action.

The folklore of weather prediction doesn’t say what it means when hornets have moved to Miami. So maybe it will rain frogs this winter. Who knows. In the absence of hornets, whatever their predictive value, my guess is that this winter will be colder than it was this summer, with some snow. So there you have it. This winter will definitely be winter. I’m shopping for new skis anyway.

Of course we are all hoping for a good snow year. The past few have been pretty feeble. After all the anxiety over the PCMR/Vail mess, it just feels like we deserve a huge winter to put it all behind us. This is really the last season of PCMR as we have known it. Next year, it gets married to Canyons, and the whole operation will be merged into one gigantic Disney-esque experience. The interconnection with be with yet another horizontal lift so beginner skiers can move easily from the existing horizontal lift at Canyons to the King Con or Motherlode areas of PCMR without having to actually ski. Something like Splash Mountain. It would be really nice to have a big, deep powder finish to the PCMR era.

It’s possible that the changes that result from the integration of Canyons and PCMR, and the Vailienization of our town will be positive. Certainly some reinvestment is long overdue. But I really hope to savor one last year of the more intimate version of the mountain I grew up on before the Mickey Mouse ears come out next season

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.


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