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Hard Winter Ahead

It’s true. Most of the signs are already here. We are going to have a hard winter this year. Niño or Niña, it’ll be a tough one.

This topic gathers momentum every year as a topic of deep discussion. Its source is usually Labor Day. Some have suggested that it comes with the first frost here in the Methow, but I disagree, knowing quite well that it can frost any night of the year except August 18th.

There are certain prerequisites to discussing the subject. First one, you have to have a listener. I have found that as the valley has grown there is a bumper crop of listeners, the best of whom are facing their first winter, with the ultimate among these being southern Californians. They are eager to know what their first winter will be like, and it is incumbent upon me to suggest that it will be their last.

The first hard winter sign I noticed was that the dog has not finished shedding her wool. She is blind and deaf and about age 23, but until this fall she always groomed herself. Not this year. The squirrels have been in the pines, shucking the seeds and bombarding us with the coneal remnants.

The cottonwoods began dropping their leaves in July about three years ago. People wisely proclaimed it was because of the drought. The trees did it again this year and it was, said the pundits, because there was too much water in the ground. Nothing to do with winter. Ha. I say. In fact, HA! It has everything to do with winter - look how the leaves exacerbated damage from the snowfall back east at the end of October. Of course it has to do with winter, you tiny fools.

You may wonder what authority I have to speak of as a hard winter expert. Experience. The first time I set foot in the Methow, 1967, there were four feet of snow on the ground, and it was near zero degrees. On that very day in Sam’s Restaurant I proclaimed it was a hard winter. Nobody disagreed. When Ms. Gloria and I moved here from Everett (and Northern California) we were apparently mistaken for Southern Californians and old- timers would regale us with hard winter tales. Being new to the turf I countered with “Hard winter? Ha!” (I say that a lot.) On February 4, 1954 it hit 69 below at West Yellowstone. I was in Havre, Montana that day and it was almost 60 below there.

This bit of frigid one-upsmanship, if it did not qualify me as an expert on weather, at least gave me credibility as someone who could come up with a lot of numbers in a hurry.

So it was that I told the new neighbors, a Southern California couple, that the wind never blows in the winter here, squinching my eyes to the sky and scuffing my cowboy boot toe in the dirt which is what you have to do to look like an old-timer.

Their first winter they had me plow their quarter mile driveway with my old International Scout. That night the wind came up, blew into the morning and there was no driveway, just a solid mass of snow where it had been. The wind continued, it was twelve below and with my estimation of the velocity, the chill factor was about 86 below zero.

I am certain I lost credibility with them as a Methow weather expert, but I assured them that when the wind blew in the winter, the next one would be a soft one.

They may have believed me. But they deserve credit. Credit? HA! Total admiration, because by gosh they are still here, living in the same place. Somebody else plows that quarter mile nowadays and that’s a good thing, because we have a real hard winter ahead this season.