Sunday, February 2, 2020

Groundhawg Day 2020: Here comes the snow again

I see that the rat saw no shadow this morning atop Gobblers Knob near far away Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania. The ape-lizard interpretation of this non-event holds that spring will be early. The fun fact is that there's no correlation between Groundhog Day predictions and the arrival of seasonal spring. But it's fun to play the game.


Shockingly beautiful here today. The air temp is 72 as I write this at 1330 local. It's breezy but otherwise fantastically beautiful. Lots of sunshine, lots of warm, clouds on the horizon threatening to move in but not here yet.

Red and I did 4.58 miles this morning in a buck-eleven and change over the difficult terrain of gully bottoms. Where there was snow/ice it was mushy, a bit like beach sand. Where there was no snow/ice it was wet, soggy, muddy, slippery, clingy, and generally tough going.

It was the kind of power hike where the sum of energy expenditure was far more than the whole of the distance would have led me to believe. In other words, it was a good one.

The physical challenge was a good one but I had more than enough cardiovascular juice and muscle strength. It wasn't easy -- it was hard work -- but it was well within my capabilities.

The harder part was fighting through nerve pain. Today it was no more and no less difficult than it's been since I started working out again. Not fun, but a satisfying challenge to meet and overcome.

When/if the time for surgery arrives, the more physically fit I am the better the outcome is likely to be and the speedier the recovery. There will be and are things which are out of my control, but I get to control my level of fitness, and that's no small thing.


If the nws forecast holds up, here at Kimball we're supposed to see 70 degrees on a mostly sunny day today.

I don't personally like to see sustained warmth in winter, and this is why. Stand by for numbers!

Back in 2012 we had a very toasty winter and I loved every minute of it. I reveled in seldom having to chop ice and in walking around in shirtsleeves more often than not. Who needs all that cold weather? Who needs bundled-up misery just for misery's sake? Pfui!

In January 2012 the daily high air temperature was 46.8 degrees, the daily low 16.9 degrees, and the daily average 31.85 degrees. The 100+ year averages were 40.3, 13.4, and 26.9 respectively. About 5 degrees above average. While air temperatures were above normal in January, precipitation was below average. We had 0.023 inches of liquid moisture from 2.5 inches of snow. January's long-term average is 0.37 inches of liquid precip from 5 inches of snow.

February and March of 2012 were similarly warm and dry, and the remainder of the year was hot and dry. It was a severe drought year. We received only 8.3 inches of precip for the year, compared to the long term average of more than 16 inches.

This year has started in a similar fashion.

In January 2020 the daily high air temperature was 44.58 degrees, the daily low 19.97 degrees, and the daily average 32.37 degrees. Again, about 5 degrees above average. And once again, precipitation was below average. We had 0.05 inches of liquid moisture from 2.0 inches of snow.

And how does this compare to the previous drought in 2002, which was the most severe since records began to be kept in 1893?

In January 2002 the daily high air temperature was 45.1 degrees, the daily low 12.1 degrees, and the daily average 28.8 degrees. The 100+ year averages were 39.7, 14.3, and 27.0 respectively. About 1.8 degrees above average. Precip was reported as a trace of liquid and a trace of snow. In 2002 the long-term average was 0.37 inches of liquid precip from 5 inches of snow. For the year precipitation totaled 6.67 inches.

So we're clearly going to have a severe drought, right?

Hang on.

The second most severe drought on record was 1894 when precipitation totaled a paltry 6.75 inches for the year. What did January 1894 look like?

In January 1894 the daily high air temperature was 40.0 degrees, the daily low 11.6 degrees, and the daily average 25.8 degrees. Compared to the same 100+ year temperature averages it was 1.8 degrees below average. Precip was 1.1 inches of liquid from 11 inches of snow, significantly above average.

The fifth most severe drought on record was 1911 when precipitation totaled 9.46 inches for the year.

In January 1911 it was 4.8 degrees warmer than average but also wetter, with 0.91 inches of liquid from 10 inches of snow.

The sixth most severe drought on record was 1912 with 9.51 inches for the year.

In January 1912 it was 2.1 degrees cooler than average and again wetter, with 0.60 inches of liquid from 4.0 inches of snow and a day with 0.2 inches of rain sans snow.

So actually, January temperatures and precipitation aren't indicators of drought. Drought is a climate condition which plays out over nature's seasonal cycle, which is not the same as a calendar year. As a rancher who relies on precipitation to grow grass, and then derive income by grazing that grass, I'm always sensitive to the possibility of drought. Drought means reduced or no grazing in order to preserve the grassland ecosystem without harm, and that means reduced or no grazing income. Which is tough. So I'm always on the lookout for indicators of drought.

Winter is the wrong place to look though. Winter temps and precipitation are only coincidentally correlated with drought. The proof of drought is lack of precipitation during the growing season, and in particular during April-May-June.

It would be fair to say that I fear drought, but only because it means a hard year financially. Nature takes care of the grassland ecosystem perfectly well during drought by maintaining or entering dormancy. So long as I don't savage the ecosystem by grazing during drought, nature's prairie is preserved, and therefore the major asset of the ranch is preserved. After the drought, rains will return and grass will once again grow and need to be grazed.

If a person like me -- who spends every day outside in nature and who has years of experience watching nature respond to climate conditions -- can have fear over small deviations from seasonal norms, I can only imagine how those who don't have the same or similar experiences can feel when told by self-proclaimed "experts and honest brokers of news and information" that "evil people are killing the planet and January's temperature and precipitation data prove this beyond any possibility of a doubt."

It's important to be able to turn away from propaganda and look the the scale, context, and perspective of reality.

Of course we're supposed to get winter-whacked beginning tonite...


As sunset approached it was a very pretty painting nature splashed across this part of the world.

Pretty and also rather interesting.

She's not telling.

Be well and embrace the blessings of liberty.


  1. Yes, it was a beautiful day! Took the dog for a walk, and ran one of my little R/C cars around for a bit. It hit 72* here at about 1000, and maintained it until just before sunset. Even painted some model parts in the garage, and they're pretty dry, so safe to go back in the basement without stinking the house up.

    And I cut up a bunch of crab apple wood from a big branch that broke off in the spring. All nice and dry now, and hopefully it'll add a little Snap, Crackle, and Pop to the fireplace which we'll use Tuesday night.

    I haven't lived here long enough yet to get a good handle on the weather patterns and seasonal changes. Our first winter here (2017/2018) was very mild, and even the in-laws were commenting on it. Last year wasn't bad, and so far the only thing that knocked me for a loop was the big snow before Thanksgiving.

    Keep warm, Shaun!

    1. It was an excellent day for enjoying a mid-winter gift from nature! Sounds like you had productive fun.

      I'll enjoy winter's return, and enjoy grumbling about it. Spring just isn't far away at all. Soon I'll be grumbling about hot and still rather than cold and windy.

      Keep warm yourself!

      Thanks for stopping by and commenting drjim!

  2. The winter snowpack in the Rockies is at or above average so we should have runoff for the summer. As in your area, the high plains isn't getting much moisture which could hurt the water tables and wells. I must confess I know little about dryland farming and ranching. I did spend much of my youth working an irrigation shovel.

    1. I always get nervous this time of the year. On average my worries are borne out about every 20 years, which means I'm wrong 19 out of 20 times. I'm just a bit psychotic about drought.

      Working an irrigation shovel is real work! Give me fence fixing any time!

      Thanks for stopping by and commenting!

    2. The glamorous life of a cowboy. Stacking hay and fixing fence. Escaped into the Army who made me a Combat Engineer stringing barbed wire and stacking sandbags.

    3. No wire, hay, or sandbags in my navy! Although that may have all changed by now. ;-)

  3. I think you mentioned that the chicken (formerly people) house is the oldest on your place. Looks like it is some sort of adobe maybe? Us city folk think of pioneers always living in log cabins, but in Nebraska you'd have to walk a spell to fine enough trees to make a whole cabin, or even a little bitty one. So, what did they use?

    Weather will change, it always has, and all this "man made climate change" is nonsense. If your cows stop farting, the planet will not get colder again.

    1. They actually started with a couple of sod houses. I'll have to take some pictures and write about those.

      The chicken (formerly people) house is site-manufactured concrete made with sand and aggregate cemented with a lime slurry derived from buffalo/cow chip ash. I'll do some images of that as well, you can see how it was laid up course by course. Those olden people could do amazing things even though they had no smart phones, whackopaedia, or wokeness!

      It's amazing how many people believe what they're told they believe despite all the contrary evidence of reality. I wonder how many first-world people could build a concrete house like that today. I like to think I could, but I bet I'd screw it up badly.

      Thanks for stopping by and commenting John!

  4. Another awesome day on the Plains, thanks for sharing that.

    1. Thanks Sarge. Just now it's 19 degrees and heading lower as nature prepares to deliver more wintry delight. The forecast predicts 4 inches of snow and sub-zero lows over the next couple of days. I guess it is still early February...

      Thanks for stopping by and commenting!