Editorial: Is El Nino Really a Bad Thing??

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The 2015-2016 winter in Wyoming is expected to be yet another unpredictable year of snow.  As a fishing & snowmobile guide, my world revolves around precipitation in the surrounding mountains.  December-April are filled with riding the frozen form up in the headwaters of the Green River drainage.  April-November, I ride or float the thawed out form of precipitation clear down to I-80 on the river.  In this lifestyle, “El Nino” is not a new term for us.  This international weather pattern has brought us warmer temps and more moisture, historically.  This article is not aimed at promoting global warming or climate change, but just my own observations of spending 90% of my life outside.  Since the beginning of time, our earth has experienced extremely different weather patterns, this is simply one of them. Warmer temps create apprehension, but with the additional moisture, our water tables have a fighting chance.


Additional Moisture: Good-Great

It is no secret the American West is in a drought.  What does El Nino contribute to Wyoming?  National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) weather maps indicate the Cowboy State to be in the “EC” range (equal chances of greater or less than average snowfall).  While this holds true from the December-February forecast…Late February/March predictions lean towards more moisture.  When rainy moisture creates wet days down in the valley, the lands up high will gain snow-pack in the frozen form.  Warmer temps make the snow heavier and wetter during El Nino years…but it is more snow, so we will take it.  April is always a key month for the sledder and fly fisher.  Most of our watersheds rely on ample winter snow-pack to carry life sustaining flows to the trout who call our rivers home throughout the duration of the year.  Big snow storms in April-May add to the existing winter accumulation, giving fresh snow to the back country traveler during winter to explore and more water for the fish down the road in the warmer months.  All of this holding true if mountain runoff begins and ends as it historically melts off the mountains.


Warmer temps:  Not so Good

Still holding in the “EC” zone, Wyoming can swing either way during El Nino this winter.  Warmer temps allow the snow to condense or “set up” making it heavier and not as deep.  This is known as “hero” snow, as anybody can ride it and go anywhere…appearing to be a hero.  Hero snow typically becomes abundant in the high country sometime in mid-late February, as powder days decrease and spring conditions become more abundant.  If we see warmer temps, will we see “hero” snow earlier?  Below normal temps keep the snow drier, less condensed and much more fun to ride on a sled or pair of skis.  Ideally, we want the colder temps in the mountains as long as we can so our rivers have more to feed them.

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Wet Spring:  Yes, please

The forecast for late Spring/Summer predicts more moisture than normal.  Nobody knows how this will affect runoff…but on top of a potentially above average snow-pack and a wet spring, it appears our ecosystem will experience yet another saturating year.   As Wyoming lawmakers plan to continue the strategic storage of water and plan more impoundments, surrounding states have found interest in our watery situation.  Aerial maps illustrate Wyoming as a main source for several important waterways throughout the West and Midwest.  The Snake, Missouri, Green and North Platte Rivers all originate in Wyoming, providing water for agriculture, civilians, as well as landscaping use in Colorado, Nebraska, Montana, Utah, Idaho, just to name a few.  Water makes our world go round.  Everybody relies on water to survive, not just from the tap


My prediction…

– Hero Snow, lots of it = lets go where we haven’t gone before.
– Mild winter = stellar winter dry fly fishing as warm weather promotes aquatic insect emergences
– Wet Spring =  more food in the rivers for our fish, more forage for our ungulates (elk, deer, antelope…etc) & more opportunity to ride snow later in the season.

The summer of 2015 was a great summer fishing-wise in western Wyoming.  Seldom did we see water temps reach 70F (fatal to trout) and our trout revealed great health and quality.  In contrast, negative reports of high water temps, low river flows and worried sportsmen around the American West echoed from traveling friends and clientele.  On July 18th 2015, myself and both of my clients wore waders and ski jackets in the boat… similar to a cold day in May on the river, I have never seen this “chill” in the middle of July in over a dozen years of guiding in Wyoming.  The Cowboy State is very fortunate to see this cooler weather and potentially high snow-pack as the rest of the West is noticing our “soggy boots” and snowy peaks.  With this being said, bring on the next storm and lets go play!

 


Ryan Hudson guides adventure seeking individuals for Green River & Bridger-Teton Outfitters in Daniel, Wyoming during the winter months.   An ideal week for “RyHud” is guiding a sled trip on  Monday and guiding fishing by Tuesday.