Quandary: How long must Summit wait for winter?
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Quandary, an old and wise mountain goat, has been around Summit County for ages, and has the answers to any question about life, love and laws in the High Country. Questions? email email@example.com
With the snow on the mountains this week, I was wondering how close you think we are to winter?
I know, it’s down-right exciting when those first few flakes paint the peaks, but you are going to really have to work on pacing yourself here. Just because we got a little dusting above about 11,000 feet, doesn’t mean you need to start deicing the sidewalks just yet. We do still have another season to fit in the mix before winter drops on your head, but you’ve come to the right place for your predictions, my friend. You see, long before Doppler radar and satellite images, people turned to nature for the answer. And while nature may not have been as easy to read as a goat in the newspaper, it did still dole out some good advice.
Dang it, now I’m getting ahead of myself, too. Winter brings the skiers here, but autumn brings amazing views, cooler hikes and evenings out by the campfire (fire regulations permitting of course). Not to mention the kind of gold that can still drive a man deep into the woods — aspen leaves. This season is also known as the shoulder season up here — not to be confused with mud season which happened back in the April-to-May time period. In the shoulder season the locals start to peek out of their fox holes a little more, and stick their heads out wondering just how long they have before high season strikes and they must again retreat to midweek outings. Which brings us back to nature’s harbingers: pretty plants and fuzzy friends.
One way people judge how many weeks we have left before Ullr comes back is by the fireweed. Think of this flower as Summit’s answer to Punxsutawney Phil: When the fireweed blooms to its end that means there’s six more weeks until winter. You can watch the blooms rise up this beautiful flower throughout the summer, like a reversed match burning until your summer days are gone away. After this happens, rumor has it there are six weeks of fall before winter arrives. Now I’ve been munching my way across the county and can tell you it ain’t over yet. While the wick is getting awfully low on the old fireweed, there is still a little space carved out for a nice Labor Day weekend and maybe a couple weeks beyond that. That being said, you might want to make sure there’s room for a coat under your kids Halloween costume. I know, not exactly a revelation in Colorado, but you’d be surprised how many Mermaids freeze their tails off each All Hallows’ Eve.
Once the snow does start descending, another plant is said to give you an idea of how high it will go: skunk cabbage. When this plant reaches its full height, supposedly, that’s how high the snow will pile up for the next winter.
Some people also claim caterpillars to be a good indicator of snow levels, and in Pennsylvania the Wolly Worm Festival has caterpillar experts examine the fuzzy fellows to determine what the winter will look like. Look for their prediction to come out on Oct. 15.
If you just can’t wait that long, and all this plant identification seems like a little too much work, you can always turn to the Farmer’s Almanac. This year the old grower’s guide is predicting a late start to winter, with a mild-November followed by the peak of the season near Dec. 21. As for the overall outlook? The Almanac claims freezing cold and average snowfall — except one mongo snowstorm that should hit in mid-February. As for this old goat’s prediction? I’m thinking it’s coming early and often this year. Look for a big snowfall in mid-October, a lull through November and then powder days as far as the eye can see. Keep in mind, this is just one old goat’s gut so you might not need to stock up on firewood just yet.
But like I said, you’re really jumping the gun here. Before you start chasing fuzzy caterpillars around the woods, take a minute to look up and check out when those aspens start changing. After all, you’re in Colorado now and we take serious pride in our four seasons.
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