Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania’s Phil the groundhog, has predicted an early spring while Wyoming’s groundhog, Lander Lil, has gone on the record stating our fair state has more winter ahead.
While basing weather on whether a groundhog sees its shadow or does not seems ridiculous when our own scientific approach to winter weather is still often far from right, it is amazing how often the groundhogs get the prediction correct.
The results are pure speculation and now competition between a town in Philadelphia and Wyoming groundhogs. Weather predictions seem a 50-50 bet at best for the groundhogs as well as for trained weather scientists.
As far as winter goes in Wyoming, the Bighorn Basin has seen very little of winter since the big storm around Thanksgiving in 2019. The new year has been mild. Temperatures in the 60s are not a common occurrence early February, but based on past weather history, it is not all that uncommon either.
I am no doubt in the minority when it comes to seeing six more weeks of winter. However, so much depends on a good snowpack here in the West during the long winter months. Not only does a low snowpack impact river and stream flows for anglers, it also can impact storage in reservoirs like Buffalo Bill and Boysen and other reservoir impoundments that are used for irrigation, industry and municipalities from Thermopolis to Cody to Lovell.
We have had a great snowpack since 2011, with moisture content averaging well above 100 per cent in the Absaroka and Bighorn mountains. For instance, last year’s snowpack was above 150 percent in the Shoshone, Greybull-Wood and Clarks Fork drainages. Currently, the snowpack is sitting around at 95-100% in these drainages. While that seems good, one must remember the moisture content in the Basin was changed a few years back from a 30-year average to a 15-year average. So, a 100% average today is actually less than the moisture content measurement sitting in these same mountains 30 years ago.
The other advantage of an above-average snowpack is that tailwater fisheries can maintain higher flows during the winter months instead of having the flows pinched back in order to provide adequate water supplies for ag and industry. The additional flows also increase the number of aquatic insects and benthic invertebrates, which in turn, keep our trout fat and happy throughout the entire year.
Full disclosure, it would be nice to experience a wild Wyoming winter for much longer – even well into March or even May. I know no one likes to shovel the white stuff on a daily basis, nor plow it off the roads, but hey, that’s why we live at the altitudes we do, right? I would rather have too much water than not enough for our wild native Yellowstone cutthroat trout on the east side of Yellowstone and inside the Park.
Extra flows also bode well for not just the native trout and whitefish, but it also helps to support the other trout and char species that have been introduced over the past 100 years by the Wyoming Game and Fish Department to keep anglers happy and providing a diversity of rainbow, brown, brook and lake trout and now, even tiger trout, a hatchery clone between a brown and brook trout. So, let it snow, let it snow, let it snow for at least six more weeks.