‘Snotellin’

shoveling 0119So I shoveled some snow this weekend, and according to the forecasts, I’ll get to do more later today — although while the forecast calls for snow from noon until 6, we’re predicting less than one inch. That’s a lot of flurrying about.

I also desperately need to get on the roof at work, because my new (replacement) solar panels aren’t shedding snow like the old ones did, and the entire bottom half of my array has been covered by snow probably this entire year. Don’t forget: you can track how well (or not) I personally am saving the world right here. But since it’s supposed to snow this afternoon, no matter how fluriously (don’t you think that should be a word?), I’ll save that fun chore for tomorrow.

As some of you may or may not know, Lynn and I are having a house built for us. We did some of the design, but all of the heavy lifting has been done for us by our contractor, his crew and his subcontractors. So far, the one task where we can contribute is in snow removal (our “freeze equity,” according to Lynn).

Saturday, under supervision from Oz, I spent about an hour pushing snow out of the Good Room — because we finally got more than flurries. The sun was shining, the sky was (mostly) blue — even though the temperature was apparently about 9 F, I took off my coat. With a closer inspection, I could see I am wrong once again: all of the trusses, including the overtrusses, are already in place. And what I thought were more trusses appear to be the plywood-ish sheets to cover the trusses as the base layer of the roof.

I for one will be happy when these sheets go in place. I’ve always liked shoveling snow, although it doesn’t like me much anymore, but getting it out of a house, even a partial house, is hard — and incomplete — work.

Fortunately, I guess, most of the south wall is still missing, so I just pushed snow out that big opening. But there are all these braces to duck under and shovel around, and then when you bump up against the studs the snow gets shoved in between them and it becomes difficult to extract . . . I don’t know how much equity we really established.

Lynn joined me for more shoveling Sunday evening (no sun, so coats stayed on), but lifting it up out the windows was much harder on my back, and I gave up before we got everything cleared. As it was, Saturday’s hour-long exertion seemed to wipe me out for much of the rest of the weekend. “Survival of the fittest” would clearly not include me.

Because we are building this house (I guess we can claim to be part of the work crew, now that we’ve indulged in snow removal), I have been sure this will be the worst winter on record, but if we ditch the anecdotal in favor of actual data, we’re having a normal sort of January.

Ever year I rely on the Gunnison Country Times to update me periodically about our snowpack, but so far this year the Times is letting me down. I have been forced to go to the primary source, SNOTEL.

I think, but am not sure, that SNOTEL consists of volunteers like our friend Fred McCaleb, who opted to retire from some large city to Powderhorn, of all places. I know he voluntarily tracks moisture levels for something, so let’s just assume it’s SNOTEL, which I just learned stands for Snow Telemetry and is part of the Natural Resources Conservation Service, a division of the Ag Department.

No word on whether SNOTEL people are “essential personnel,” but the map I found this morning says it’s current as of today. And as of today, the Gunnison Basin snowpack is at 109% of average.

That’s very good compared to last year, but as low as we were last year, we’re going to have to do better than just average to try to catch up. I believe the Upper Gunnison River Water Conservancy District predicted before this winter that it would take three years of decent snow to get Blue Mesa back to where it belongs.

But there’s also the caution that average in January no longer guarantees average by May, when all this is supposed to convert to runoff. Two years ago we were probably above average in January, but then it got warm (really warm) and moisture came as rain on top of the snow — and there went our average. There’s just no telling anymore.

And do you suppose the “average” becomes less as the snowpack dwindles? Perhaps 109% of average now is less than 109% of average before we started setting records for warmth each year. (To be clear, I don’t know that Gunnison is setting records, but the world at large had its hottest average temperature in recorded history last year. Which broke the record of the year before, which broke the record of the year before that — do we see a pattern?)

But the good news, according to this morning’s map, is that the Animas Basin in southwest Colorado (Durango) is at 97% of average. In December it was low, as the Rio Grande Basin still is at 86%.

I have decided, with all my meterological training, that a line exists in Colorado, and Gunnison straddles it. Generally speaking, it snows to the north of this line, and it no longer does south of this. It must have been 10 years ago already when Gunnison experienced one of its deepest snow years ever (good thing I liked shoveling then, because that’s all any of us did for the entire month of January).

I remember the CB News, a year later, exulting because we were supposed to be in El Niño or La Niña or some little Spanish child weather pattern, but what I had noticed that they missed in Crested Butte was that no one south of us got that snow windfall (to mix my weather). And that next year, we didn’t either.

I don’t know what we’re supposed to call the Anasazi these days — Ancestral Puebloans? — but there’s a weather-related reason they abandoned years of craftsmanship at places like Mesa Verde and Chaco Canyon. Even 100-plus years ago it was obvious to John Wesley Powell that water in the American Southwest was a precious resource, and if you look at Gunnison weather records, the entire decade of the 1930s was high and dry.

Just because I could ski every winter but one at Cranor Hill during my youth has not guaranteed the same for today’s Gunnison kids — although Cranor did open a week ago, and it looks like there’s even enough snow in the Van Tuyl pastures for people to give their Nordic skis a workout.

For the moment, anyway, Lynn and I have restored normalcy to a Gunnison winter. You can thank us at your convenience.

(And did everyone notice I have figured out how to put tildes over Spanish N’s? I am becoming just so darn blog proficient I can barely stand it.)

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