Perspective is an interesting thing. If you talk to almost anyone around Casper, the general perspective is that we are having a very mild winter. I spoke with a man in his 60’s who has lived here all his life and he was commenting on how warm this winter has been. Ditto with a man in his 80’s.
I was even complaining that I had seedlings sprouting in the wildflower garden in December as if it was May. I began wondering how often that happens and I just don’t notice. Obviously, those seedlings won’t survive until next growing season which will impact the number of flowers I enjoy next spring.
Now, I should mention we all recognize that we have quite a bit of winter yet to go, but as the days and weeks tick by, we have less and less chance of the kind of cold temperatures that commonly occur in Wyoming winters. We usually have some below zero temps that hang on for days by this time in January. We are obviously enjoying a very mild and unusual winter.
Or are we?
I’m a naturally suspicious sort, and I notice things that defy my common understanding; like winter in the Northern Rockies is cold and starts in October. We all know that don’t we? But every once in a while I stumble across something that flies in the face of the generally accepted.
While reading A Ladies Life in the Rocky Mountains, about a British woman who treks through southern Wyoming and northern Colorado in 1875, I noticed how she repeatedly described it as ‘hot’ in the foothills west of Denver and Estes Park in October, November and into December. I kept thinking she has a strange idea of ‘hot,’ but at any rate, she seemed to be enjoying hiking and riding all over the lower mountains up until Christmas, in only the basic dress common to ladies of that era. Hm, maybe this winter isn’t so unusual after all. It made me take the time to look up some climate data for Wyoming and my area around Casper.
Data doesn’t lie, or so I was told in college. In this case I think it’s true, the data I am referring to hasn’t been manipulated or interpreted, it’s just a stream of thermometer readings over the last 100 years or so. My source is the Wyoming State Climate Office (SCO), a branch of the Wyoming Water Resources Data System (WRDS). Where you can view climate data as far back as 1895.
According to this database, this past November and December in Wyoming has actually been slightly colder than usual. Yep, colder than the 100 year average. The average November 2011 temperature for Wyoming was actually 1.1° F lower than the 100+ year average. The average December 2011 temperature was actually 2.3° F lower than the 100+ year average. So far, the January 2012 temperatures are near normal.
If I understand the data, the overall trend for November in Wyoming has been a 0.05° F drop per decade over the last 116 years. The trend for December has been similar with a 0.02° F decrease.
Looking more specifically at central Wyoming, which WRDS divides by water shed, thus the Lower Platte River, the average November 2011 temperature was about half of a degree F warmer than the 1895-2011 average. The mean December 2011 temperature for the Lower Platte was actually 3.5° F colder than the 116 year average.
It’s like many things on this planet, a human being simply doesn’t have a good eye for the big picture, due to the simple fact that a life time only spans a narrow band of the timelines of nature.
So much for my perspective.