One year to the next

Jun 7, 2012 By Steven R. Peck

Outsiders who visited during last year's wet spring and this year's dry one would be astonished

What a difference a year can make.

Twelve months ago, planned springtime activities were either in jeopardy or ruined by cold, wet weather as we all wondered if spring would ever arrive, much less summer. Hardly a week went by in April and May without another snowstorm, up to and including a substantial snowfall on Memorial Day.

Snow continued well into June in the mountains, and snowpack swelled to nearly 250 of the typical amount.

Sandbags became a worry. Would there be enough of them? Would they be in the right place. Would the sandbag stations be open on the weekends?

When would the water come down, and where? Would it be as bad as the unforgettable flood of 2010 -- or worse? Scheduled events such as the Saltwater Classic golf tournament and hundreds of graduation parties on patios and back yards were iffy. Baseball games were postponed again and again. On the Fourth of July weekend, floodwater washed out the main highway from Fremont County toward Yellowstone Park.

This year conditions couldn't be more different. For most of the spring, visitors who were here last year might have a hard time believing this is the same place were they to return.

There was nary a bitterly cold day all winter. We had shirtsleeve weather in February, hit 70 degrees in March, 80 in April, and challenged 90 yet in May. That barrier fell early in June. Might we reach 100 before the first official day of summer?

Now the worries are quite different. We still wonder about water coming down form the mountain, but in terms of if, not when. A flood is the last thing on anyone's mind, and sandbags are in surplus supply everywhere.

Crop worries nag at us, irrigation shortages keep us awake night, and lingering in everyone's mind is the D word. Drought. Another off season like the one we just went through and we'll be in a crisis again -- if we aren't there already. A few days of rain brought some relief, but the windy, blast-furnace conditions of this week dried things out in a hurry.

In the large, overarching scheme of Fremont County climate, this year is more typical of spring than last year was, but it's still a strange one. When the crabapple blossoms had all come and pretty much gone before May 1, "oddity" officially became an operative word in the description of the season.

In a pallid detail dwarfed by the larger significance of the seasonal concerns, The Ranger has taken the step, as of this week, of changing the working of one of our headings in the daily weather almanac published alongside our weather map and forecast.

Instead of "normal" high for the date, we're changing it to "average."

You can come up with an "average" figure through simple statistics. But, as the last few years have demonstrated, there's really no such thing as normal.

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