The Dark Heart of Winter

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That’s not a snow report, that’s a dull blade shoved in deep. Mt. Ashland has a veneer of snow on her slopes, nothing more. At least two feet of the white stuff, preferably three, is required for skiing. Another winter is upon us and although it is early things are once again starting slowly. Too slowly for my taste. Last year was a disaster and that followed a year that was actually worse. If good things come in threes, what do bad things come in?

I love winter. I love cold weather. Jackets, hats, gloves, scarves, thick socks—these are the things that make me happy. Piles of snow make me even happier. It’s been plenty cold here in the State of Jefferson but there’s certainly not been enough moisture in the air. On our drive south last week we drove over Black Butte Summit in the snow. We followed the plows on the interstate as they scraped the measly few inches off the blacktop in front of us. Since then? Nothing. Bupkes. Nada. Oh, the forecast says we’ll get a drop or two later this week but nothing to get excited about.

In California we talk about drought all the time. That’s because it doesn’t rain at all for half the year. Just about all the precipitation that will fall in the state will fall between November and April. From May to October we are mostly dry. And half the damn state is desert or damn close. I tell people we will always have drought. We will always demand more water for whatever purposes we want it for and our demand will always exceed our supply. But it can be better some years and worse in others and that is mostly due to snowpack. In fact, the entire California water system is built on snowpack. During the dry season the snow melts and keeps the flow of fresh water coming. No snowpack, no renewal. No replenishing the streams. No refilling the reservoirs. No recharging the aquifers. That’s what we have been experiencing lately. Unless we get a proper snowpack this winter we will suffer again next year.

The water-hungry can be forgiven for their obsession with El Niño. I’m not sure any of us can adequately describe an El Niño, but we will babble on about it and imbue the term with prayerful longing because we are desperate for relief. The rains will come at some point and most of the state will sigh contentedly, sure that it means the drought is over. But the high country folk will look at the snowpack and if it isn’t thickening steadily they will sigh resignedly, convinced once again that the gods of winter have cursed us.

And that’s where I am right now. In the dark heart of winter. I sit, watch, and wait for the storm clouds. I long for masses of saturated Arctic air to descend upon our little valley and the peaks that surround us. I need a sign that such will happen soon or I will be be weeping and gnashing my teeth, wailing and lamenting the cruel and capricious weather deities.

I’ll leave you with this. It’s a map of the West with current snowpack numbers compared to the 1981-2010 median for each region. Green, blue, and purple are good. Red, yellow, and brown are bad. I see a lot of bad. Tell me something good is on the way.



2 thoughts on “The Dark Heart of Winter

  1. What does this graph mean? Does it mean the basin-wide percentage SWE (I get that part) as of November 30 of each year? If so, it is nearly meaningless. As someone who eagerly watched snow for many years for a chance to ski, talking about the snowpack in November is a fool’s errand – it can change in one storm, and often does. I simply did not expect it before Martin Luther King Day weekend, and it seems like many years that would be the first big dump. And you couldn’t really talk about drought before the end of April (although, now, because of so little the last couple years, you can). Also – it’s percentage. Look at those areas that are >150% out in the middle of the Nevada desert. That could mean that they got 1/2 inch, but it certainly does not mean that there is more SWE than Oregon or Tahoe.

    ps. The weather in Tahoe says 5 days of precipitation in the next 8, including today. Although it is warm, one is expected to be rain. Good luck!


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