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Clouds Rule

Written by Dennis Sun

Early in the second week of May, central Wyoming received some much-needed rain, and we sure would like some more – outside of Casper we haven’t received much measurable precipitation in many months. The stock ponds are pretty low, and it’s not easy digging postholes, or even pounding a steel post, in some places.  
The weather in Wyoming always keeps us guessing, doesn’t it? Here I am complaining about a lack of precipitation at the ranch while I’m buying flood insurance for the office, which is located in the Sandbar, or downtown area of Casper.  
While there is still plenty of time for rain, I shouldn’t complain. The poor people trying to ranch and farm in areas from eastern Arizona, across New Mexico and Texas and into some parts of Oklahoma, Colorado and Kansas are really in trouble. They’re suffering from La Nina’s unseasonably warm temperatures and scarce rainfall and it looks like there’s not much relief in sight over the next few months. Some say they’re in the worst drought since 1917, and wildfires are burning close to 3,000 square miles of land and over 400 homes in west Texas. Most of that area still hasn’t recovered from the drought over the past decade.
Not far away in the east, the Mississippi River is cresting at over 64 feet, with thousands of acres of farmland and cities being flooded. Here in Wyoming we’re still guessing about what will happen when the rivers drain our record snow-packed mountains, as cool weather has delayed runoff. In fact, in some parts of the state this past week the snowpack was still getting deeper and setting all-time records for snow depth.
Remember, it wasn’t that many years ago when conditions were just the opposite, when we had ground moisture and green grass but were in a hydrological drought from a lack of snow in the mountains. It was then that we figured out that there are two kinds of drought – the hydrological drought and the forage drought. Being “dry” isn’t just being dry anymore.
Those who have ranched, farmed or lived close to mountains, which is many of us in Wyoming, have learned to read the clouds over the mountains to see if the rain or snow will hit us or how windy it will be. Laramie Peak is a good one to watch, and for many years the Ferris Mountains and Green Mountains served as my weathercasters. A long-time rancher in the area, Bill McIntosh called the clouds on Ferris Mountain its “mad hat,” and that has proved true time and time again. As with all weather, we were still guessing, but we could tell if there was snow to blow, and we’d better get through the Muddy Gap area before it turned into a Braille trail, and we could usually guess right about whether a lightning or rainstorm was coming our way.
I’m sure there are many other mountains that others are reading all over the state as we learn that clouds rule, and as we realize that this would be a pretty dull state without our mountains and the clouds over them as we all shake the dice over weather.
Dennis