October is usually the month when the season’s first snow falls. So the 2017/2018 snow season is off to the races – two or three inches so far at mid-afternoon on this 9th day of the month, and it is still snowing (the photos accompanying this post were taken this morning along the Tower Trail, about an hour after the rain turned into snow). Not since 2013 has the park seen any measurable October snow, when a total of 7″ fell. It’s nice to see that stretch of snowless Octobers come to an end.
Looking back over the past few decades of precipitation records, October’s snow totals can vary quite a bit, and sometimes it can snow a whole lot! In 2009, October saw a whopping 30.3″ of snow; 1976 saw 28″, and 1997 brought 25″ of white stuff.
It does beg the question: Does a snowy October portend a snowy winter? Well, looking back at those three snowy Octobers, both the 09/10 and 97/98 winters were well above average. In fact, the 97/98 winter was the snowiest in the last four decades, when 209.5″ of snow whitened the Beulah landscape. Slightly less than the seasonal average of 118″ fell over the 76/77 snow season. So, will the 2017/2018 snow season be a heavy one? Well, if today’s snow can be followed by some good pre-Halloween snows, it just might!
The snow continues to fall as the afternoon wears on. I can just hear my cross country skis out in the shed, trembling with excitement! Maybe this will be a winter with lots of good skiing and snowshoeing in the Mountain Park. Come on snow!
~ Ranger Dave
As the nights lengthen and cool, it seems that the night music of crickets becomes more noticeable to my ears. Maybe the fact that it won’t be too long before the cold of winter silences them heightens my awareness of those warm season sights and sounds that will soon go dormant for the winter.
Hearing the evening cricket chorus last evening, and how most were chirping at the same rhythm, I was reminded that there is a formula for determining the temperature by counting cricket chirps. According to the Old Farmer’s Almanac, you can convert cricket chirps to degrees Fahrenheit by counting the number of chirps in 14 seconds, then add the number 40 to get the temperature. For example, you count 30 chirps in 14 seconds, add 40, and it is 70F. Happy chirp counting!
~ Ranger Dave Van Manen
After what was likely the driest fall and winter the park has ever experienced, the new spring season has so far brought some very healthy doses of moisture.
With the spring equinox just a couple days past, a rather balmy March 23 brought with it over 3/4″ of moisture – most in the form of rain. A series of rainy and/or wet snowy storms culminated in the April 3-4 storm that dropped just over 2 feet of snow heavily laden with lots of water. Between March 23 and April 4, a whopping 5.55″ of moisture fell on the parched soils of the Mountain Park.
For comparison, over the six and three quarter months between Sept 1, 2016 and Mar 22, 2017, the park saw a total of only 2.95″ of moisture in the form of modest snow and some rain showers.
The season’s snow total is up to 59.0″ – exactly 50% of the average 118″ – still very low, but improving. The park is a whole lot wetter than it was a couple weeks ago, with an increased water supply and decreased fire danger. I hope that this wet pattern continues. I do think that the park’s spring wildflower display is going to be a whole lot better than it was looking to be a couple of weeks ago. ~ Ranger Dave
The last day of January just became the first day of February. January added 14.2″ to December’s 6.5″ of snow, bringing the season total to 20.7″ (Nov and Oct brought no measurable snow). Our snow season roughly runs Oct 15 – May 15, so we are 50% through the season. If half the park’s average 118″ fell in the first half of winter, then those 20.7″ put us at 35% of an average snow year. The latter half of the winter is usually somewhat snowier than the first half; so, factoring that in, the 35% figure is probably a bit low. Even so, we are still having an extremely dry winter. Unless the weather pattern changes, we may be in for a record dry winter.
The last blog, which I posted a few weeks ago, asked the question: When will it snow? It took some more waiting, as November came and went without any measurable snow. The answer to that question finally came on Dec 7, when I measured 1.2” of snow, with another 1.3” of new snow the next day. That is the latest first snow of the season as far as I have found in looking at weather records for the last several decades. Dec 17 and 18 brought another 4”, bringing the season snow total to 6.5” to date.
The seasonal average for the park over the past several decades is around 118” of snow. So, we are off to a very dry start of the snow season, after a very dry fall. I do know that things can turn around pretty quick as far as snow totals go. A couple of good-sized storms, lined up just right (like a well-placed Albuquerque Low) can drop lots of white stuff on the Wet Mountains and bring those numbers up pretty quickly.
So, my winter solstice wish this year for the place that I live and work is for several strong, slow-moving Albuquerque Lows to slide across northern New Mexico and upslope lots of deep snow packing a whole lot of moisture. Once that happens, break out the cross-country skis or snowshoes and experience winter in Pueblo Mountain Park. If you are not into these winter-sports, then put on a few layers, bring a camera, a thermos of hot cocoa, your journal, or a good book and spend some quality time in the winter wonderland that the Mountain Park can be. Come on snow!
Thanksgiving is a week from tomorrow and we have yet to see our first snow here in the park. Looking back at precipitation data through 1975 (40 years worth of data), I can find one November, 1981, when it did not snow, and one, 2012, when we received only a trace. November ’81 was followed by a December that brought 26″ of snow and a winter that wound up about 15″ below average snowfall. December 2012 saw 16.3″ of snow and that winter’s total was also around 15″ below average (which is around 118″).
One difference – we did not see two major wildfires come within a half mile and four miles of the park in October of 2012, or 1981. In fact, major wildfires happening in the Western US (or the Southeast US this year), which have become a regular part of the news the last few years, were not unheard of in 1981, but they were certainly not a common concern every year like they have become lately.
As I type these words on this mid-November afternoon, it is 71F and rather windy outside. The forecast says there is a 20% chance of rain – totaling less than a tenth of an inch – tomorrow and snow tomorrow night. Will November 2016 be snowless? Time will tell!
Here is a photo of what the woods look like in snow taken last winter – it sure looks nice, doesn’t it?
A few weeks ago I wondered if October would bring the season’s first snow. It is now November 1, and not only did Halloween come and go without any snow, but nary a drop of rain fell as well. The last measurable rain – 0.07″ – fell on September 30. Since September 1, I’ve measured a stingy total of 0.62″. All this dryness resulted in two October wildfires that threatened the park. The Beulah Hill Fire, which started on a crazy windy October 3, burned over 5000 acres and got within around a half mile of the park as the crow flies. Two weeks later, the Junkins Fire started on another windy day and made it to around 4 miles of the park. The latter, which burned around 18,000 acres, is still not fully contained, and will likely not be fully out until the skies deliver some decent snowfall.
As I type these words on the morning of November 1, a fair autumn sky and another warm day seem to offer little hope of bringing any snow, or rain. I just checked the NOAA website, and they are projecting a 30% chance of rain showers in a few days. That would be nice!
It is still a pleasant day to be outside, with no more smoke from the fires, no wind, and a few colorful cottonwood and oak leaves hanging on here and there under a lovely autumn sky. But it would be an even nicer day if the clouds would darken and thicken and start dropping something wet. I think I’m going to put on my rain-dancing shoes! Or, better yet, my snow-dancing shoes! Care to join me?
My plan was to head up to Lookout Point yesterday, October 17. But the strong wind, the nearby Junkins Fire, and being on pre-evacuation status kept me from getting there. Why visit Lookout Point on October 17? Because I wanted to be there on the 82nd anniversary of the date carved into a small cement slab found in the granite of that lovely place. It was put there by the workers who installed the pipe railing that surrounds Lookout Point.
So I hiked up there today, one day later, and took these photos (note the smoke from the Junkins fire on the horizon in the 2nd photo). A bit of the lettering has worn away, but I can still make it out: A.F.M. Pueblo, Colo. Oct. 17, 1934. It was during the Great Depression when much of the infrastructure was built in what was then a 14-year-old Pueblo Mountain Park. The early 30s brought the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) to the park to construct roads, bridges, trails and other structures. Later in the 30s, crews from the Workers Progress Administration took up where the CCC left off.
I’ve tried to find out what A.F.M. stands for. Originally I figured it stood for American Federation of Masons, or something similar. I figured the park work crews arranged for some masons from Pueblo to install the railing. But I could find nothing that corroborated that. Was it someone’s initials? (If anyone can shed some light on this, please let me know – I’d appreciate it.)
For eighty-two years (and one day), Lookout Point has been offering hikers, scout groups, campers, students, and many others grand views of Pueblo Mountain Park and Devil’s Canyon. How fortunate we all have been to benefit from the good work of the CCC and the WPA – and, the AFM.
When I think back on Trick-or-treating in Beulah with my kids back in the 80s, it was pretty much a given that there would be some snowy/slippery places to watch out for. Usually by Halloween, Beulah would have seen its first snow. As October 2016 is well into its second week, and the temps are predicted to be in the 70s for the next few days, I am wondering – will it snow in October this year?
So, I dug up the precipitation data that I have for Beulah that I have been keeping for the last several years, along with data that others have kept for the park, to see what the last several Octobers have looked like. Looking back at the last twenty-five Octobers, sixteen of them saw snow, while nine didn’t. For the sixteen years that did see snow, it has ranged from around an inch or two (2012, 2008, 1994) to 30.3” in 2009. Other relatively significant snowy Octobers were 1996 (16.5”), 1993 (17”) and 1991 (22”).
Based on this data, there is about a 2 in 3 chance that it will snow in October. The last two years have seen no snow in October here in the park. Does that mean we are due for a snow or two this October?
The weeks of summer are certainly slipping by, and the park’s current display of wildflowers only confirm that the summer is indeed aging. Gone are the blossoms of spring beauties, low penstemon, and mountain bladdepod. They have been replaced by hairy golden aster, Kansas gayflower, nodding onion, and stiff goldenrod.
It has been a relatively dry summer so far. June and July both saw less than 2″ of rain, and August is off to a slow start. To be more specific, June’s 1.90″ was followed by 1.82″ in July, and August, as of this morning of the 8th, I’ve measure only 0.27″. The flow of tropical moisture from points south, known as the monsoon, has been pretty stingy in delivering those summer rains.
The moisture has apparently been enough for several wildflowers to find their way to blossom, as there is a fair amount of wildflower color out there.
Now in week two of August, the land continues its march towards fall. Hopefully the clouds will deliver a bit more rain (but in doses that the land can handle, please – we had enough flooding a few summers ago to last us awhile) before the turning leaves start adding their earthy colors to the landscape.