Tom Clyde: Winters remain unpredictable and anxiety-inducing
September 29, 2018
On Aug. 31, 1894, Tom Potts died unexpectedly. Potts and his wife Lavina homesteaded a portion of my family's ranch and lived in a house that disappeared long ago. He was a healthy, active man at 32 when he died. The Park Record reported that he died "after eating green corn."
Well, against that metric, my summer corn crop was a smashing success. By any other measure, though, the experiment was pretty much a failure. I planted a special hybrid corn that was supposed to mature in 64 days. The seed packet said to plant as soon as the soil temperature would maintain a constant 65 degrees. I knew that wasn't going to happen, and that 64 days would be unrealistic.
After over 100 days, I started picking an ear now and then. A few of them got big enough to count, though you would pass them up at the grocery store. Most were on the puny side. It was very good, sweet corn, and you can't beat fresh from the stalk.
When the temperature hit 26 degrees last week, it was over.
So with ski season about 6 weeks away, I begin to get anxious. What kind of winter should we expect?”
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All in, I managed about a dozen respectable ears of corn, and abandoned about three times that on the frozen stalks. They aren't worth picking, and aren't going to get any bigger now. It works out to something like $25 per ear by the time I factor in the deer fence and the extension of the sprinkler pipe.
But nobody died, unlike the unlucky Mr. Potts, and I suppose that counts for something. Potts would not have had the benefit of fast-growing hybrids, and standard corn planted in early June would have been far from ripe by the end of August. The impatience seems out of character. He spent 2 years digging an irrigation ditch to get water to his farm. Waiting another couple of weeks for the corn to ripen doesn't seem like a stretch, unless they were facing a cold snap and it was "now or never" for his corn.
Other accounts say he died of appendicitis rather than being knocked off by his green corn. There's no way of knowing at this point. I've eaten green corn and had appendicitis and survived both, albeit with surgical intervention. So who knows.
The corn might have had a better chance if I had been able to water it more. The irrigation system began to run dry midsummer, and by early August, the corn was on its own. I don't think there was more than a half inch of rain all summer. It got a couple of waterings, but clearly not what it needed.
The North Fork of the Provo River is essentially dry. You might bail some out with a shot glass, but no bigger container would fit between the rocks. The South Fork has held up a little better. That's typical. Still, the combined flow of the river is running at the lowest flow in 55 years of records at the gauge in Woodland. The reservoirs are low, the ground water is gone, and the soil is so dry that a hose running fully open struggles to make a puddle. Not good.
So with ski season about 6 weeks away, I begin to get anxious. What kind of winter should we expect? If Mother Nature fails us, is there anything left to pump up the mountain to make snow? The pattern this year has been similar to 1992, which was the previous lowest flow recorded. So what did the following winter look like? 1993 was wetter than average, with a lot of moisture in April and May, and a pretty wet summer, according to records from the Department of Agriculture. They have automated stations that record this stuff. I watch the one at Trial Lake pretty carefully. It means the difference between getting a hay crop and not.
But if I look at the graphs for wet years and dry years, there doesn't seem to be much of a pattern. A dry season one year doesn't reliably translate into a wet year the next. There is a statistical average, but there is no "normal." The National Weather Service long range forecast suggests this winter will be warmer than average with average amounts of precipitation. That's based on all kinds of scientific mumbo-jumbo and the potential for an El Niño, La Niña, or La Bamaba forming in the Pacific. There's about a 50 percent chance that they will be right about 50 percent of the time.
My "hornet nest system" of forecasting is equally reliable. Unfortunately, the wind the last few weeks has blown the hornets to Saskatoon and eliminated any nests in the area, so there's no forecast there.
So the official forecast for the coming winter is warm with a 30 percent chance of finding parking at the resort.
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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