Weathering Lows

Nothing new for our unexceptional snowpack, which could lead to exceptional drought.

Back in my sporting days, which means reporting on sporting rather than actually doing anything, I would stand right in the thick of the opposition team on the sidelines at Western Then State football games. I would unfurl my game program and peruse the heights listed for all the players, all of whom checked in at 5-foot-8 or better.

But then I would realize I was looking over the tops of some helmets, and standing eyeball to eyeball with others. In real life I am 5-foot-7; on the football sideline, based on the reporting of others, I am easily 5-10, maybe even 5-11.

I think this is a good story to keep in mind when looking at ski areas’ self-reported snow totals. Crested Butte, for instance, is telling us it got 11 inches overnight. We could try looking for ourselves at the situation on Elk Avenue in downtown Crested Butte, but the “Donita’s Cam” is gone, the restaurant forced into pre-covid retirement by ever-increasing rent.

The state highway department isn’t a lot of help, either, with absolutely nothing showing up when you click the icon for their camera on the approach to CB. The Almont cam, 10 miles north of Gunnison and 18 south of CB, shows an overnight dusting. The state does not appear to be reporting hazardous road conditions anywhere across the breadth of Colorado, despite the major snow event we theoretically sustained yesterday.

Being a meteorologist must be a thankless task, much less a science than a dark art. People take what you say as gospel, until you are wrong — and then we immediately return, demanding to know what the weather is going to be like tomorrow. No matter how wrong you’re going to be.

California is in the line of some “firehose” — which I did not know to be a meteorological term but since it has been used universally and exclusively to refer to this weather event, must be a thing — of moisture pouring in from the Pacific, and the East is digging out from a massive snow event, but here in Ski Country USA we’re still waiting our turn.

Six to 12, that was the call for first Wednesday, then Wednesday night into Thursday. Not, you understand, in Gunnison proper, where my weather of choice, Wunderground, assured me it was going to snow all morning Wednesday, rain all afternoon and then continue snowing, snowing so hard that we would get less than one inch accumulation over all those wet hours.

And what did we end up with? A trace amount before dawn, a trace so tracelike that Kara’s husband, a snow-removal expert, counseled leaving on the sidewalks for Mother Nature to take care of, which she did. Then, instead of snow, or even the threat of snow, we got a clear, sunny morning.

This did give way to clouds and wind, a wind that was also predicted. The clouds amassed and amassed, grew heavy and opaque, the wind so fierce that I was swimming in it . . . and we don’t even have yesterday’s trace to show for the major storm headed our way last night.

I did, with my own eyes, witness two snowplows headed up the highway around 7 last night, so perhaps Crested Butte did enjoy some of the fruits of all this labor, but without cameras we will never know. I could, I guess, go look out on the highway and see if cars coming from the north have any snow on their tops, but that is physical research, as opposed to plunked here in front of my computer, scrying the world without exerting myself.

Until it comes to finding drought maps. Then the process requires far more exertion than it deserves, even while seated at my computer. At this point I’m not even sure what the NRCS of the USDA (Department of Agriculture) is, other than a data-heavy operation of geekdom. You can find a million numbers on their website, but if all you want to know is what the snowpack is doing, well, good luck with that.

It’s just a good thing we have Colorado Public Radio to fall back on. Yes, if a “radio” station can provide easy-to-understand colored maps, why can’t the government agency? I suppose I probably just answered my question right there.

At any rate, the radio station tells me only two basins in the state are approaching normal snowpack. The Rio Grande basin to my south and just east, which has been a hurting unit for many years, is happily at 102 percent of normal as of this morning, and the Arkansas basin next door is at 98 percent.

All the rest of us? We’re in the 70s, getting drier as we head north, which is the opposite of how it’s often looked these last few years. The Gunnison basin this morning stands at 79 percent of normal.

So then, looking for a drought map, which got me to the semi-helpful, we see that Colorado is in the red, which is every bit as bad in the weather biz as it is in the business biz.

Despite the presence of a color not included in the map’s key, viewers are assured that the entire state of Colorado is in a state of moderate drought, and 90 percent of us in severe drought. Gunnison County, overachiever that it is, is mostly in extreme drought, except for the northwest corner, which is exceptional. And while we frequently like to think of “exceptional” as a good descriptor, this is not the case on a drought meter.

“Exceptional,” which looks kind of like a Pac Man character ready to chomp on Gunnison as it converges from three sides, means “dust storms and topsoil removal are widespread,” and “agricultural and recreational losses are large.”

So, whether we wanted them or not — Lynn’s chief concern in her one-armed return to work is figuring out how to shovel the Post Office sidewalk in Almont, and my leaky roof at work is draining quite nicely with heat cable and no new snow — those non-existent six to 12 inches would have come in really handy last night.

We’re in luck, though: the “next” snowstorm called for by my weather is for Friday afternoon. And I just know those meteorologists will be right this time, or I’m not 5-foot-10.

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