Tom Clyde: A whole lot of snow
I always think of Presidents Day as the midpoint of winter. It moves around the calendar a bit, and there is no firm beginning or end to winter, so it’s an arbitrary measure. It’s also when I generally can muster some of the extended family to help shovel off the roofs on the old and sagging farm buildings. The steep roofs have slid on their own. The mid-slope roofs have glaciers on them that are gradually moving and calving off at the end. But there are some really shallow pitched roofs that won’t budge on their own.
They used to rely on the heat of 125 Holsteins bedded down inside to melt the snow off the roofs. The dairy cows are long gone (and not missed) so the snow accumulates. Most years we have to shovel a couple of big sheds at least once; often twice. I always wonder if letting the buildings collapse would be a better idea, but the cost of cleaning up the mess would mount up, and there is some value to having covered storage for a bunch of junk. So we shovel.
Last year we never shoveled. Of course last year it didn’t snow. This year is different. I religiously watch the snow stake at Trial Lake up in the Uintas online. That’s where my irrigation water comes from, so there’s more than general curiosity in following it. The long-term measurements show that the maximum “snow water equivalent” is about 23 inches on May 1st. That isn’t snow depth, it’s how much water is in the snow that is accumulated.
The long-term peak is 23 inches. This year, there are already 22.5 inches of water stored in the snowpack, with March and April left to go, not to mention another week of February. It’s nearly double what we had last year, total. If it doesn’t snow again, we’re pretty close to the long-term average for the full winter. The long-term averages would suggest that we should expect another 6 inches of water content, which could easily be another five or six feet of snow accumulation at 10,000 feet. Yikes!
Of course it could completely stop, or March could bring in 60 degree weather and melt it all off. Or it could snow until June. Long term averages are no indication of what any one winter season will do. If there’s anything I’ve learned after all these years, it’s that there’s no such thing as normal. Winter or summer, while you can crunch data and produce averages, storms or droughts come when they feel like it. It will do what it wants to do, and all we can do is adjust to it.
Sinclair Lewis is credited with observing that “winter isn’t a season, it’s an occupation.” I’ve logged many hours in the tractor moving snow around. It’s been windy enough this year that, even on days when it doesn’t snow, I frequently have to clear some drifts. There have been some annoying little breakdowns. The chute that points the discharge from the six-foot wide blower in one direction or another has been freezing, and finally the cable that turns it broke. It’s designed that way, so the $5 cable breaks before the hydraulic ram destroys the machine. The axle on a little wheel I attached to the side to hold the blower up out of the gravel on the roads got bent and the wheel wouldn’t turn.
Again, it was a fix that cost under $5 for a new bolt and some washers, but required a lot of time with wrenches that are stored outside and were very cold to hold on to, brittle bolts, chipping a lot of ice out of the mechanism (and finally getting frustrated enough to pour buckets of hot water on it until I could get access to everything to make the repair). Winter is indeed an occupation, and one that is requiring overtime this year.
It’s a tough call whether to make repairs in the frozen garage, or move the tractor out into a sunny spot on the driveway. The advantage to the garage is a solid floor so that when gloved hands and frozen fingers fumble and drop small parts, they can be found. The disadvantage is that it was probably not much above zero in the garage. I opted for the driveway, and promptly lost a handful of little pieces in the snow (I could have put a tarp down first, but, you know). It’s a rare job that can be completed without at least two trips to the hardware store.
When I was putting it all back together, cold and bloody-fingered, I heard the song of the redwing blackbirds in the brush by the river. Spring is on the way.
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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