Springtime Around These Parts Can be Balmy and Blizzardy

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Ah, spring.

In much of the United States, spring is a time of tilling the soil, putting out flower plants and long walks in short sleeve shirts.

Now here in Wyoming, spring often offers something quite different. Wyoming’s other seasons are quite predictable. For example:

Summer features long sun-filled days, low humidity, the bluest skies in America and cool, wonderful nights. It is a time of golf and of camping. It is a time of enjoying five hours of daylight after work and birds chirping in the crispy, early-morning air.

Fall is when the famous brown and gold of Wyoming comes to light. Many visitors and newcomers are often disappointed in the over-abundance of these colors in our landscapes. Veteran Wyomingites feel just the opposite. Many people actually prefer fall as their favorite season. It is time for the annual hunting trip, which means heading to the upper country or the high prairies.

Winter is snowy with long nights, wind chill factor concerns and closures of mountain passes and major highways. It is a time for snowmobiling, skiing and watching football and basketball on TV. It is a time when we all bundle up and make sure we are prepared for any emergency.

But springtime in Wyoming. Normally it is mud season, but not so bad so far. Our fierce winds have dried things out in the valleys.

Where I live in Fremont County, we just enjoyed a real abnormal “spring-like” first two weeks of March, as literally no moisture fell at all, until we got more than one inch of rain on March 23.

Going into April, our mountain snowpack level is at 175 percent of average. On a recent drive back to Lander from Riverton, I actually envied the view from our Fremont County twin city. They get to the view the entire mountain range and boy, was it glistening white in the bright sun against a blue sky.

Temperatures then soared into the 70s and it was balmy much of the time. April is actually our wettest month of the year with lots of wet, heavy snow. Cheyenne doesn’t receive as much snow in April although Laramie has seen many blizzards over the years during the fourth month.

Former Lovell and Thermopolis publisher Pat Schmidt, who now lives in Cheyenne, has this take on the winter of 2016-2017 and our mild spring:

“The mild winter in southeast Wyoming reminds me of the winter of 1977-78 when I was in Lovell. That winter was tough in northern Wyoming and mild in the southeast. I can remember flying from Denver to Billings and observing no snow until I got to the almost snowbound Big Horn Basin.

“The next winter, 1978-79, was terrible for the whole state, as you recall. Wyoming was really snowbound; had it not been for modern snowmobiles, 4-wheel drives and other improved equipment it would have been as much of a disaster as the winter of 1949. In 1978-79 thousands of head of livestock died, cattle as well as sheep. The problem wasn't giant drifts like 1949, it was one layer of snow crusting on top of another from repeated storms; animals couldn't dig through.

“Mustangs on the Pryor Mountain Wild Horse Range along the Montana border were caught on windswept ridges. As the deaths mounted, it appeared that rare bloodline would be wiped out. We tried dropping bales of hay to them from a helicopter but later found out that only compounded the problem. Some were lost because they didn't have the proper bacteria in their system to digest dry hay. Luckily somewhere around 75 horses were not caught on the ridges and survived in lower elevations.

“Remember how there was only one road to an oil well that allowed you to pull off US Highway 20-26 between Shoshoni and Casper? (The snow bank was yellow there because the highway rest stop hadn't been built!)

“Unlike many Wyoming towns, Lovell has extremely accurate weather records because of the sugar factory. As the months dragged on, that winter broke most of the 1949 records for Lovell, so we started using their record winter of 1919 for comparison when it came to temperatures and many of the records still fell.

“Why go into such detail about those two successive winters? Because it will be interesting to watch and see if the southeast dry, north and west snow-packed winter of 2016-17 is followed by a 2017-18 winter as severe as occurred then. If it is, look out!”

Check out Bill Sniffin’s columns at www.billsniffin.com. He is a longtime Wyoming journalist from Lander who has written six books, which are available at fine stores. His latest is Wyoming at 125. His books are also available at www.wyomingwonders.com.