What’s up with this weather | SkyHiNews.com

What’s up with this weather

Ice fishermen try their luck on Lake Granby on Thursday. Byron Hetzler/Sky-Hi News
Byron Hetzler/Sky-Hi News | Sky-Hi News

The calendar says January, but the scenery looks more like pleasant early fall.

Behind the Kawuneeche Visitor Center at the western entrance to Rocky Mountain National Park, measured average snow depth for this time of year is about 22 inches, according to Park staff.

But this year, the depth is 7 inches.

And where the average of December snowfall in that area over the past 62 years is about 28 inches, this December averaged 4.8 inches.

It’s a stark contrast to last year’s December, during which an average 48 inches fell there.

From Colorado Parks and Wildlife snow surveys located in the Blue River, Middle Creek, Troublesome Creek and Williams Fork areas, compiled by biologists, the average snow depth shows less than 5 centimeters this year, where the 10-year average is about 15 cm.

For the birds

December’s Christmas Bird Count offered further evidence of an unusually mild winter.

Organized through the U.S. Forest Service, observers were surprised by some of the birds they inventoried.

“We saw robins on two different routes, which is not something I’d expect in Grand County in the middle of winter,” said U.S. Forest Service Wildlife Biologist Brock McCormick.

It was the first time in the 10-year history of the Count robins were seen. In a typical weather year, robins would be long-gone by now for their journey south, McCormick said.

Seeing a common redpoll also was odd. Such birds would normally be farther north this time of year. And the red-naped sapsucker, a type of woodpecker, “should have moved south by now,” McCormick said. The group also saw “a record number of bald eagles” this year, perhaps due to areas of open water.

And in early December, the biologist witnessed trumpeter swans on Lake Granby.

“It was strange to have them down here,” McCormick said. “They should be farther north.”

Speaking of Lake Granby, most of the frozen lake lacks snow on top of the ice. Snow-challenged in the high country, the lake has frozen thicker than usual for lack of insulation. Anglers estimate there are about 10 inches of ice. Where plates of the ice converge, there are pressure ridges where water has accumulated.

These are weak spots in the ice, said Bernie Keefe, a guide with Broken Antler Outfitters, Granby, and people should navigate them with extreme care. Otherwise, the lake is even stronger than if it did have snow on it, he said. But lake-goers should wear cleats, he urged. Without snow, it’s treacherously slippery.

What is going on?

We’re in the second year of La Nina, according to Nolan Deosken, state climatologist. Usually, year two of La Nina is “not nearly as strong” as year one, he said. “We hardly ever see La Nina do the same thing two years in a row.”

Last year was unusual in terms of the persistence of storms; this year slightly unusual “on the opposite side,” Deosken said.

La Nina means cooler than average sea-surface temperatures and related wind patterns off the equatorial coast of south Central America in the Pacific Ocean. This typically creates a well-defined jet stream and storm track across the central Pacific, often plowing storms into the Pacific Northwest and southwestern Canada, missing the southwestern U.S. states. The southern Rockies and Southwest would stay dry and warm, while the Pacific Northwest and northern Rockies would be cool and wet.

But this year, the storm track “went well to our north,” Deosken said, hitting Alaska and northern Canada. And every now and then, a stray storm caught the southern Rockies into New Mexico, where moisture was badly needed.

“Last year, those areas were bone dry,” Deosken said.

Other than a few late October and November snows that made Grand County feel like it was in winter, the area is now limping along in terms of needed snowfall.

But Deosken, for one, has not lost hope for Colorado Rockies’ ski areas.

“The bulk of the season still lies ahead,” he said. “I still think there’ll be a change. I really thought it was going to happen by now. I’ll be very surprised if there is not at least a couple of bursts of cold weather in the coming months, and a change in patterns that bring snows to Grand County.”

Snow ritual

With residents and business owners desperate for the snow to fall, snow dances complete with ritualistic drumming have been rumored to take place in areas of Grand County. And embroiderer Karenann Manley has another ritual up her sleeve – or more accurately- her pant leg.

Two years ago, when it seemed like snowfalls were delayed, Manley suggested a possible snow-rite to others at a Business Without Borders meeting.

“Maybe we should all get our jeans embroidered and show the snow Gods we need the flakes down here,” Manley recounted.

So several fashion-conscious snow-wishers, such as Fraser-Winter Park Chamber members, took their jeans to Manley, a retired Middle Park High home economics teacher who runs her embroidery business, the Stitching Post, out of her home. They got snowflakes embroidered near pant-leg cuffs.

The practice seemed to work.

“We did get snow,” Manley said.

So, time to get out those jeans …

Tonya Bina can be reached at 970-887-3334 ext. 19603

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