Tuesday August 24th, 2010

Greetings and welcome!
It is usually the tradition around here to update the snowmobiling page on the hottest day of the year. I’d reckon that was last week, but I am not sure. At any rate, snowmobiling has been on my mind lately and it is time for a visit.
First is a reminder that Hay Days is the weekend after Labor Day. That is in only a few weeks.
In the spring this year I kept waiting for a big wet spell at the end of the season, Feb and March. The theory was good, but the timing didn’t quite work out. April and May brought a D-3 and almost D-4 drought to the area, the peak of a 6 year spell. In early June the Menominee River was setting 93 year records for low flow, and we had something like 3.7″ of rainfall equivelent all year.
Then it came. Late June brought some rain, and July brought over a foot of rain. August kept it up, putting us probably over 20″ of rain in two months. It is interesting to think what that 20+ inches of rain would have brought in January & Feb if it were mostly snow. I’m guessing that as we closed on the 20′ mark even snowmobilers would say enough.
June through August brought La Nina conditions to the Pacific Ocean. La Nina is like El Nino, but the cold phase of it. The La Nina is expected to continue into 2011, making that one of the elements of the winter forecast. Virtually all of the models show a cold anomaly this winter.
I recall a winter a while back that I had huge hopes for because of a pending La Nina. It did not turn out to be the Utopian winter that I had hoped for. We know that El Nino is bad, so La Nina should be good, right? Hopefully. At the very least it is not El Nino.
If this summer is a snapshot of the winter, it will be an interesting ride. There have been warm and cold spells, and a lot of precip. Usually it has not been that cut and dried where that will translate directly to winter. If this one did, it would be quite a winter.
The other day I was on the Peshtigo River taking pictures of the whitewater rafters as usual. During a break I was looking at some small trees growing in a dry side channel of the river. Most were a little under an inch in diameter. I thought to myself, ya know, those shouldn’t be there. With the conditions there, if it was possible to survive, there would be 50 year old oak/cedar/white pine/basswood/hemlock trees there. If those get much bigger, they would actually stand a chance against the ice and water of the occasional high water flows.
At that point I concluded that they had to go. The only thing that would do that is a big meltwater flow in the spring. That would require a lot of snow this winter and some frost in the ground too. Between the whitewater photographer and the snowmobiler, I got kind of excited about it. It has been about 6 years since we had a really really big spring river, and we are certainly due.
One of my little proxies is paper wasp activity. Folklore suggests high nests mean high snow. Last year I was getting stung as I went across ground nests. Bad sign, bad winter. Some years they wer 20′ up in the trees, good sign, fair winter.
This year they just aren’t. There are no nests along the river, in my work shed, in the front yard, or along the road or driveway. They are present, I am just not sure where the nests are. It catches my attention that they aren’t in the usual places.
My best guess is that they might have built nests under the bark of dead trees. I have found old nests under peeling bark on some bigger oaks that I have cut for firewood. If that is indeed the case, I would associate that with a harsh winter strategy by the wasps. I guess I will know more when the temps cool off and I start cutting wood again. For now I will settle for knowing that the wasp proxy isn’t typical of what I have observed over the last decade or so.
I looked up the CPC long term outlook, and we are in the equal chances area for both temperature and precip for the winter. There was some above normal precip for the region southwest of us. That would hold some promise that we could see some of that moisture here.
Also worthy of mention, we seem to be into a cold phase PDO. The PDO is one of many climate oscillations. This one is based in the Pacific. Cold phase PDO would be associated with the period of 1963-1976. I was young in the first part, but I recall the second part being huge for snow. That is when the snowmobile industry boomed and we had literally hundreds of companies trying their hand at building a sled. I also remember the snow piles being huge. Sure I was a little kid, but I also recall the city workers having to dig out the stop signs because the snow banks were over them. It is also when my Dad bought our first sled, the 72 TnT 640.
Beyond those reasons comes the gut. I just have this feeling that I should already be ready for winter, and that I might want to pay attention to this one. It isn’t the usual optimistic preseason forecast, there is a little light belly thing too, like before you go on a scary ride or do public speaking. My instincts are strongly telling me that Mother Nature is about to issue us a right hook that we haven’t seen for a while.
I know that I am optimistic every fall. It is my nature to dive into it with the glass half full, and I (rightly) get a good bit of guff about it. This year I am very optimistic yet again, big surprise.
Maybe I just have myself whipped up into a funk as usual. Maybe not.  Something is very different this year.
I will be back as fall progresses.
Have a good one and thank you for visiting!