By: Mike Fraley
During the fall months of 2016, we experienced the longest and most beautiful weather here in northern Wyoming that I can remember. Many of the “old timers” predicted that it was going to be followed by a hard winter, and man were they right. We are seeing above-average snowpack across our state as a result of a cold and wet winter. Meteorologists say this could be the result of La Nina, caused by colder water in the Pacific Ocean, which affects the weather across many of the central states. The snow and cold weather bring a variety of challenges as well as benefits for landowners and livestock producers across the Northern Rockies. Like the weather in the fall, the weather this winter is unlike anything we’ve had for many years.
The cold, wet winter conditions that ranchers are facing this year create many hardships that chip away at morale. They face the challenge of getting around to feed livestock and keeping water open because of the ever-changing snowdrifts and below-zero temperatures. Feed costs surge upward as livestock need to be fed more, for a longer period of time. Although the future moisture will be helpful in the long run for wildlife, the extreme cold and deep snow decimates wildlife herds as deer, elk and antelope struggle for survival.
However, there is also reason for optimism for the rancher and land owner as we deal with the cold and snow this year. The increased snow-pack now means more moisture and drought relief this summer – rivers and reservoirs will fill, stream flows will revitalize, ground water aquafers will replenish, needed moisture for crops and native grasses to grow strong will be provided, summer irrigations storage will be increased, and the risk of wildfires will decrease. All this snow now will benefit both livestock and wildlife later this spring and summer. After a dry and hot summer in 2016, the moisture that this winter’s snowfall has brought is a welcomed gift.
As we fight the elements of this hard winter, I guess we’ll need to keep our eyes on the prize and look forward to a lush and green spring. In the meantime, keep a snow shovel handy!