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From 1949 until 1985 Bill Waite lived just off Big Owl Road about half a mile south of us but we didn’t know him very well; we weren’t here much of the time and he kept to himself a good deal. The last couple of years he was here, though, I spent a number of summer evenings with him, sitting on the bench outside his tiny cabin. He was a fascinating man; he liked to talk about his experiences in railroading and ranching and he was very well read. And of course, we often talked about the weather, which he kept track of on scraps of paper which he carefully filed away.
In his 91st year, his eyesight failed and he moved to Denver, leaving me with the weather records he’d amassed in all those years. I wasn’t sure what I should do with them, but recently, with the availability of a computer database, I’ve been putting them together so they can be connected up in some sort of meaningful way.
There are some surprising things in all these numbers, and some that reinforce what we’ve suspected all along. For example, we’ve always thought that after a snow storm, as soon as it clears, the bottom drops out of the temperature? Well, according to Bill’s records, that’s correct. That’s what happens.
And how cold does it get? It dropped to 36 degrees below zero on January 12th, 1963, after snowing 3 inches on the 10th and 11th.
How late in the year does it get cold? It was 6 degrees below zero on April 23rd, 1968. Bill’s twenty year record between 1949 and 1969 shows that, on the average, there are 17 days below zero every year and that, at his house near the junction of Cabin Creek and Big Owl Roads, there is an average of 105.5 inches of snow every year.
I haven’t worked out the rainfall 20 year average yet, but it’s going to be right around 10 inches a year. 1969 was the big year: between April 12th and September 16th he recorded 22.9 inches of rain, including a 5.7 inch gully-washer on May 7th! That’s the most rain he ever recorded in a 24 hour period. Your own figures, as the saying goes, may vary.
Bill also kept track of the date the snow melted away in the trough of Mt. Meeker. For those of us who live in front of that mountain, that patch of snow is the most visible sign we have of the passing of the summer. Between 1952 and 1981, the earliest date was July 1st in 1981 and the latest was September 10th in 1979. 1980, by the way, was a very average year: August 17th.
The least snowfall for a winter while Bill was keeping records was in 1976, when he recorded only 76 inches, while the high was 181 inches in 1979. I guess that’s why the snow stayed in the trough so long. There were 30 inches of snow in May alone that year.
I’m not sure why people keep weather records. I’ve always been interested in weather and I suppose I talk about it as much as anyone, but I don’t keep any records. There was a time when I had to keep weather records as part of my job and now that I don’t have to, I don’t. Still, I’m glad Bill Waite did and sometimes I feel a little guilty about not continuing his work.
When I look at his numbers, scrawled on scraps of paper, the back of calendars and just about anything else he had handy, I see much more than just the numbers on the paper. I see Bill in his WW I hat (you know the kind; it looked like a ranger’s hat) checking his thermometer, squinting at his rain gauge, admiring the view and considering the weather. He’s been gone for four years now, but I still miss him.
© 1985 – 2003, David E. Steiner
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