Snowpack Levels Low

Many people don’t realize that the western part of the United States is generally arid to semi-arid. The Pacific Northwest gets biblical amounts of rain, of course, because of the coastal mountain ranges wring the water out of the wet air. Every range of mountains east of the coast catches the ever drier air, and squeezes a bit more moisture out of it. In summer, this water usually falls as rain.

But in winter, the moisture falls in the mountains as snow. The snow builds up over the course of the winter into a thick covering called snowpack. The snowpack only begins to melt in the spring. Depending on how deep the snowpack is, it often lasts into mid summer, giving regional cities and farms a long lasting reservoir of water.

The most important river in the Southwest is the Colorado River, fed by the Green, Upper Colorado, Gunnison, Uncompahgre and San Juan basins. The entire Southwest, including Arizona, Los Angeles, San Diego and the Central Valley of California depend on the rain and snow that fall in these basins that feed the Colorado.

So about this time of year, I begin to watch the snow pack in the mountains to see how dry our summer is going to be. Red is below average, green is above average, white is average, and grey is non-reporting either because it doesn’t have snowpack or there was a glitch.2018-2-23 NRCS Map Jan 2018.jpg

In January, it was looking pretty grim. (January Snowpack) Only the Northern Rockies were in good shape. That didn’t actually surprise me, because we in Colorado hadn’t had any real snow falls in November, December or January.

But starting in February, we’ve had a bunch of little storms. Most of them have dropped less than 3 inches of snow, but it has begun to build up. (February Snowpack) The snowpack isn’t deep enough to make anybody breath easy yet. But the storms have added enough to give us hope that we won’t have water restrictions this summer.

2018-2-23 NRCS Map 4 2018 Feb

NRCS National Water and Climate Center

It all depends on the next three months. Spring is our wettest season, by far. If mother nature is kind, we can make up the deficit.

Fingers crossed.

 

Eight Inches of Water in a Week

Eight inches of water in a week. That’s what we got up on Green Mountain, west of Denver. That’s about half of what we normally get in a YEAR. On the other hand, it is also about half of what we got during the Week of Water a year and a half ago.Granite flowing into water

The good news is that, although it was close, there was no significant flooding. We’ll still have to keep an eye on afternoon thunderstorms for a couple of weeks, as any dumps of rain onto the water-logged soils could still cause problems, but overall we were lucky.

The rain made for some great photographs. I saw a cool boulder on my weekly hike up Apex Canyon. In the rock’s ancient past,  it had been heated and warped so that now it looked like it was flowing into Apex Creek. The wetness on the rock surface from the rain helped with the illusion.

Canyon Wren-1_edited-1

On the same hike, I came across a canyon wren trilling in the American plum shrubs along the trail. Normally, Canyon Wrens are very shy, being heard but not seen. I was really lucky — his guy practically posed for me.  If you look closely in the first picture, you can see his tongue as it trills his song.

Lazuli Bunting 5

I know that the rain drove birds to my feeders. I never get Lazuli Buntings, except when it rains. This bedraggled boy was filling up on seed when I got my coffee this morning, and stayed till around noon.

Storm hummingbird-12

Finally, we had hummingbirds coming by. I don’t usually put out hummingbird feeders so early, because they never stop at them until mid-summer, but I figured the wet cold weather might give them a reason to make an exception. Hummingbirds go into a kind of nightly hibernation to conserve energy. If they don’t eat enough during the day, they can starve to death overnight. On a cold night like this one promises to be, they can use all the extra energy that they can get. I put hummingbird water out, and within an hour, we had hummers filling up.

Hummingbirds are one of my favorite topics to write on: https://wordpress.com/post/35886144/707/https://wordpress.com/post/35886144/355/ and https://wordpress.com/post/35886144/34/ .

Great Wildflower, Part 2

From our great spring crop of blooms, (https://coloradogeography.wordpress.com/2014/04/29/get-out/) this continues to be an outstanding season for wildflowers.

Every time we begin to dry out, we get a rainstorm that waters the plants. And the flowers just keep comin’.

According to the USDA Plants Profile webpage, http://plants.usda.gov/core/profile?symbol=MOFI&photoID=mofi_004_ahp.tif you can find pink bergamot all over North America. This is a flower head, made up of many different flowers.

Monarda fistulosa

Pink bergamot, in the mint family. It is sometimes called bee balm.

Monarda fistulosa

Individual pink bergamot flowers.

 

Here’s a close-up of the bergamot flowers.

Many different tribes used the leaves and flowers of this plant as a seasoning, and as a cold and congestion remedy.

 

 

 

 

 

 This is a close-up of a bull thistle and a wild bee. Normally, I have little patience for bull thistle — it is a big, spiny, invasive plant. But this purple-pollen sprinkled bee may change my mind. If bull thistle can provide pollen for bees, butterflies and hummingbirds, I will give it some respect. These pollinators need all the help they can get.

Bee in thistle-07_edited-1

Wild bee on a bull thistle head. Each purple fiber comes from a separate flower.

 

The Mariposa lilies are opening in the foothills right now. This is another plant that will continue opening at higher and higher altitudes as the summer progresses.

Mariposa lily-5

Gunnison’s mariposa lily.

 Purple prairie clover has striking orange anthers that catch your eye.

When I sent this to my Project Budburst coordinator, she said that it had never been recorded in the Mount Falcon Open Space before. It is a plains plant; finding becoming established in the foothills may indicate a warmer climate. This is one of the reasons we are monitoring plants in Project Budburst.

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Purple prairie clover.