Jeff Hammer: Weather: Anything Can Happen

It must be springtime in Wyoming. Anyone who has lived in our beautiful state for any length of time longer than a year will understand the whimsical and temperamental nature of the weather during this season of the year. Just the other morning, at about three o’clock to be precise, I awoke to hear a steady pattering of rain on our roof and the accompanying rain water falling through the downspouts. I was thankful for the rain, but as I was lying in bed, my main thought was: “Who predicted this?” Certainly no one on television, radio, or the internet from the day before.

Not only did we have a soaking rain in town, but after stepping out of bed and beginning my morning ritual, which I won’t describe, and then walking into the living room, where I hoped my wife had started the pellet stove to warm the place up a little, I stepped up to a living room window to view the foothills of the Wind Rivers, which is also part of my morning ritual. The blanket of white covering the face of the foothills and higher up into the forest surprised the heck out of me. 

It’s the latter part of May, for goodness sakes, I thought, and those foothills should be a vibrant shade of green and they should remain so for a few weeks because of spring rains, not spring snowstorms. I shouldn’t be surprised, of course. As a native Wyomingite, I should be used to this weather. Like I’ve heard numerous fellow natives shrug and say, “This is just springtime in Wyoming.” Anything could happen…and usually does.

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During most days, when I’m in town, I access the weather forecast using the radio, our television, and online from the National Weather Service, so I have a pretty good idea of what conditions the next day will bring. It doesn’t happen often, but occasionally Mother Nature will throw a nasty curveball, just one offering from her whole repertoire of sinister tricks, and defy the experts, which is exactly what happened.

Just the day before, my wife and I went for a short drive up into Sinks Canyon, where many campers were enjoying the spring like weather, some using travel trailers and camper vans, but many had pitched tents, and as we drove out of the canyon, toward Lander, I sort of envied them, enjoying time around the campfire or just doing whatever by taking advantage of our public lands. When I saw the snow the next morning, instead of envy, my first thought was: “Man, am I glad I’m not camping in Sinks Canyon!”

As I write this column, two days later, much of the snow is still there, covering the newly green grass and the gray sage of the foothills, and the forecast for today is more rain in the afternoon…just springtime in Wyoming. For heaven’s sake, the aspen trees and lilac bushes in our yard are not fully leafed out yet. During my wife’s and my rambles around town, I’ve noticed that most lilac bushes are in full bloom, one of the pleasant aspects of spring, but for whatever reason, each year our lilacs bloom later than most other bushes in town. They are just barely leafing out, and this year I’m wondering if they may still have blossoms into July. That would be awesome!

The week before, my wife and I were in central Europe, where I assumed the weather would be similar to ours here in Wyoming, although I was hoping for warmer temperatures and at least a few consecutive days of sunshine, which we had not yet experienced in Wyoming this spring. 

We left Wyoming on a Thursday, where the leaves on the cottonwood trees along the Popo Agie River had not yet fully developed and arrived in Budapest the next day, where the leaves on the deciduous trees there were in full display and appeared to have been for some time, and the grasses along the roadway were two feet tall. Although cloudy, the outside air temperature felt reassuring.

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Sometimes the weather deities cast a favorable spell because we were rewarded with a week of near perfect weather, ideal shorts and t-shirts days. It rained for a short time on only one day. We enjoyed sunny walks in historical communities and along the Danube River at each stop, and on one particularly gorgeous day, our bike ride could only be described as glorious, where we rode along corn fields in which the plants were nearly a foot high.

On the day we flew back to the United States, the temperature in Munich was forecasted to reach 95 degrees. Our huge Boeing took off under sunny skies and warm temperatures at about 11:30 in the morning. When our connection to Casper touched down on a Friday at the Casper airport about 13 hours later, at about 5:30 pm local time under cloudy skies, the outside temperature was a balmy 47 degrees, with a nice chilly breeze to wake me up for the two and a half hour drive home…during the weekend of the state track meet in Casper.

Over the next two days, I read Randy Tucker’s outstanding coverage of the state track meet here on County 10, and of course, the accompanying photos told an amazing story of our state’s youth persevering under extremely challenging conditions for an athletic competition. Only the most cynical of adults would not be impressed by those performances, win or lose.

If my memory serves me correctly, and it often doesn’t, I remember state high school track meets throughout the course of my high school years during which the tracksters competed under much different conditions. Maybe I’m donning my figurative rose-colored glasses, but I recall May track meets where one would have been more concerned with acquiring the first sunburn of the summer instead of suffering hypothermia from a wet, spring blizzard.

This spring’s weather is such a contrast to the weather patterns from last year. A year ago, not much later than today’s date, my wife and I were tent camping in the Yellowstone region for nearly a week. The temperatures were brutally warm for that time of year, and when we weren’t hiking, we were searching for a shady spot to rehydrate and recover. 

One afternoon, after a very scenic and gratifying hike to the top of Bunsen Peak and back, we were putting our lunch supplies back into our car after eating at our campsite at Mammoth Hot Springs Campground. My wife stepped around the back end of our 4-Runner to open the driver door and abruptly stopped as if frozen, and her words spoken immediately after that were done so in a voice that indicated I should investigate something on that side of the car post haste. 

When I came around to evaluate the situation, I was greeted by the sight of the biggest bull snake of my life casually snaking its way across the parking area of our tent site. Despite all the noise, which increased significantly with me on the scene, the snake slithered seemingly unconcerned onto and across the access road and then down into the sage and grass, obviously hoping to score one of the many Uinta ground squirrels which seemed to have nothing better to do than to constantly chase each other this way and that, making a general nuisance of themselves.

I hoped it was successful, but the fact that the snake’s travels originated from an area near our tent was a little unsettling, especially considering my inclination to make a nighttime run to the restroom each night. In tranquil settings, I know that bull snakes are harmless, but that knowledge hasn’t fully imprinted itself in my brain when a surprise encounter occurs; and stepping on one in the dark may not provide a positive outcome for either the snake or me. I don’t wish to test that hypothesis.

I provide the contrasting weather scenarios between this year and last as evidence that Rocky Mountain residents must be nimble when it comes to clothing choices from March through June because any type of weather can occur…and usually does. Rarely do we encounter the perfect spring day, one with sunshine, warm temperatures, and no wind.  When we do, we should celebrate, but until then, keep your jacket handy…and your sunscreen.

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