A Milder Wyoming Winter?

Perspective is an interesting thing. If you talk to almost anyone around Casper, the general perspective is that we are having a very mild winter. I spoke with a man in his 60’s who has lived here all his life and he was commenting on how warm this winter has been. Ditto with a man in his 80’s.

I was even complaining that I had seedlings sprouting in the wildflower garden in December as if it was May. I began wondering how often that happens and I just don’t notice. Obviously, those seedlings won’t survive until next growing season which will impact the number of flowers I enjoy next spring.

Now, I should mention we all recognize that we have quite a bit of winter yet to go, but as the days and weeks tick by, we have less and less chance of the kind of cold temperatures that commonly occur in Wyoming winters. We usually have some below zero temps that hang on for days by this time in January. We are obviously enjoying a very mild and unusual winter.

Or are we?

I’m a naturally suspicious sort, and I notice things that defy my common understanding; like winter in the Northern Rockies is cold and starts in October. We all know that don’t we? But every once in a while I stumble across something that flies in the face of the generally accepted.

While reading A Ladies Life in the Rocky Mountains, about a British woman who treks through southern Wyoming and northern Colorado in 1875, I noticed how she repeatedly described it as ‘hot’ in the foothills west of Denver and Estes Park in October, November and into December. I kept thinking she has a strange idea of ‘hot,’ but at any rate, she seemed to be enjoying hiking and riding all over the lower mountains up until Christmas, in only the basic dress common to ladies of that era.  Hm, maybe this winter isn’t so unusual after all. It made me take the time to look up some climate data for Wyoming and my area around Casper.

Data doesn’t lie, or so I was told in college. In this case I think it’s true, the data I am referring to hasn’t been manipulated or interpreted, it’s just a stream of thermometer readings over the last 100 years or so. My source is the Wyoming State Climate Office (SCO), a branch of the Wyoming Water Resources Data System (WRDS).  Where you can view climate data as far back as 1895.

According to this database, this past November and December in Wyoming has actually been slightly colder than usual. Yep, colder than the 100 year average. The average November 2011 temperature for Wyoming was actually 1.1° F lower than the 100+ year average. The average  December 2011 temperature was actually 2.3° F lower than the 100+ year average.  So far, the January 2012 temperatures are near normal.

If I understand the data, the overall trend for November in Wyoming has been  a 0.05° F drop per decade over the last 116 years. The trend for December has been similar with a 0.02° F decrease.

Looking more specifically at central Wyoming, which WRDS divides by water shed, thus the Lower Platte River, the average November 2011 temperature was about half of a degree F warmer than the 1895-2011 average. The mean December 2011 temperature for the Lower Platte was actually 3.5° F colder than the 116 year average.

It’s like many things on this planet, a human being simply doesn’t have a good eye for the big picture, due to the simple fact that a life time only spans a narrow band of the timelines of nature.

So much for my perspective.

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7 Comments Add yours

  1. Nice article! Here in Jackson we are all scratching our heads, especially after last years record snow. It has been warm enough to make the streets and sidewalks a mess. So warm in fact that when it snows it is a pain to shovel. At this point I am looking for a early spring, but as you said – things change in the Rockies…

    1. wyominglife says:

      We have had only two snows at lower elevations worth mentioning, but they have been good, wet snows. Here on the edge of the high plains it’s common to have snow with almost no ‘moisture’- meaning it does not dampen the soil. Casper Mountain is doing fine with a 50 inch snow base.

      For awhile now I’ve been trying to relocate a book I read about the early days in Jackson. They had some big snows during the time it covered and they talk about abandoning the idea of clearing streets and just cleared narrow little paths between buildings with the snow towering 10-12 feet on both sides. It also mentioned the post master skiing over to Idaho to deliver mail: a three day trek across the mountains. Wish I could remember more about it so I could find it again.

  2. You are so right to remind us that we puny mortals can’t see the big picture, let alone interpret it, without the aid of data much longer-lived than we are. I’m struggling right now to know when to go ahead and put in my first batch of seeds for my wildflower garden, since in north TX we’re having spring weather pretty consistently and never had any serious freezes this winter–but we’ve been known to get ice storms and snow in later February. I suppose if I wait until mid-month any later Feb snow and ice won’t likely risk killing sprouts, but then what spring we do get is usually blasted away by instant heat. Obviously I haven’t quite shifted gears fully after moving here from the northwest a couple years ago! So I’m going to have to do a lot of questioning of the NTX garden gurus to figure out what gives my plantings their best odds.

    1. wyominglife says:

      I have played that guessing game many times. The old-timers around here have a general rule about not planting frost sensitive plants until Memorial Day. There are some years when I could have gotten away with an earlier planting, but it’s a good rule of thumb. I agree, the long time residents in your area probably have the best advice.

      Thanks for stopping by. Your blog is a treat and I’ll be listening!

  3. Rachel says:

    This is my second year in Wyoming, we spent last year in Rawlins and are now in Green River. I have been comparing this winter to last winter and have been thinking it has been MUCH milder…..Maybe because I was in Rawlins last winter. But you are so right, it is not that abnormal when you look at a larger time span. Perspective is everything. Glad I found your blog, we love spending time in the Casper area! This state is truly something special if you ask me!!

  4. It has been a mild winter! Cold, but not a lot of snow. Last year the temp alone got down to almost 30 below. (I do NOT miss that) 🙂

    1. wyominglife says:

      We’ve had some pretty good snow here- wet snow. Typically we start getting our wet snows about now. Of course last year was a record breaker for many. I’d be happy if the river didn’t get so high this year. The North Platte was pretty intimidating for much of the summer of 2011.

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