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Hang On, Summer’s Here

Written by Dennis Sun

Well, it’s been a wacky spring for all of us, and just an extension of winter for some. We’ll all certainly remember this winter as a different type of winter.
For some, it was snow and cold forever, while for others it was just cold, and for yet another group it wasn’t so bad. I’ll date myself, but it somewhat resembled the winters of the early ‘70s and ‘80s. Those with memories said we would pay for the great fall we had, as it was really warm and we had no wind – conditions that lasted into November. Some paid with too much snow and cold, while others paid with dry ground and dry stock ponds.
But, we got through it, as always, and now summer is here and many of us are holding our breaths if we live along some of the streams and rivers that leave the state. On May 30 the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) Monday Morning Snow Report was a record breaker for the state as a whole and, as I understand it, the highest since the recordkeeping began, and that was some time ago.  
The report stated that last year, 2010 – and remember, the state received a ton of snow last year in some areas, especially the Upper North Platte drainage – “the average Snow Water Equivalent (SWE) as percent of average was 126 percent, with a low basin of 81 percent and the highest basin at 182 percent of average.”
For the last week of May this year, the report stated that all 12 basins gained average SWE and one basin had melted out. The real story is that, as of May 30, the “state average SWE was 327 percent, with a low of 217 percent and a high of 575 percent of average.” That is big news. The low drainage, believe it or not, was the Upper Yellowstone, while the high was the Powder-Tongue drainage. Many of you who live in those drainages understand the numbers.
So, what does it all mean? To quote the report: “Wow, I do not know what will happen. Either we’ll have high runoff lasting into July, or we’ll set all kinds of extreme flow records. It all depends on the weather.”
“Extreme flow records,” in bureaucratic language, means somewhere will flood.  
Lee Hackleman, NRCS Water Supply Specialist, along with all the other NRCS personnel who assist with taking readings around the state’s mountains, need a pat on the back for all of their hard work to compile the weekly report. I think some readings are wireless, but for most they have to jump on a snowmobile and get out there, which can’t always be that much fun.  
The weekly status reports are vital information for many county emergency managers, and especially for Manager John Lawson and the Bureau of Reclamation Wyoming Area Office. Lawson uses the vital information to regulate flows in Wyoming’s river systems, especially in the North Platte and Shoshone drainages, to avoid flooding. This year’s weather and the record-breaking snowpack will be a challenge from now through mid-July. Hang on.
Congress wants to cut the NRCS by $100 million this year, and I sure hope they leave this program alone.
Dennis