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Front Page » January 16, 2007 » Opinion » The Wasatch Behind: Whatever the weather
Published 3,189 days ago

The Wasatch Behind: Whatever the weather

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Sun Advocate Columnist

I have learned by hard experience not to pay much attention to the TV weather guys in Salt Lake City. Their batting average isn't very good on this side of the mountain. In fact, my dad did an informal study a few years ago and determined that old Mark Snowbank was 80-percent correct about 10-percent of the time. So, for Carbon County, the nightly weather forecast should be considered mild entertainment and not news to rely on. A rope hanging in a tree does almost as good a job. If it's wet it's raining, and if it's moving the wind is probably blowing.

But of course, it isn't all the fault of the TV weather prognosticators. We have some unusual conditions here on the Wasatch Behind. I have it on good authority that the time the bible says it rained for 40 days and 40 nights, Castle Valley was partly cloudy with a little wind. We just don't get storms here like they do in other places of Utah.

Carbon County is in a rain shadow. It's a phenomena caused by the mountains. Look at any good map of Utah and you will see that Castle Valley is shaped like a big horseshoe and surrounded on three sides by mountains. The mountains create a lot of our weather.

It happens like this. Storms coming from the Pacific are heavy with rain and they hang close to the ground as they cross Nevada. Nevada is relatively flat, and so the clouds carry most of the moisture all the way to the Wasatch Front before giving it up as rain. When the clouds hit the Wasatch Mountains, they drop the water as the wind pushes them to higher altitudes to cross the mountains. Bingo. The land of SLOP (Salt Lake, Orem, and Provo) gets wet. By the time the clouds reach this side of the mountain, most of the water has gone to wash the streets of Happy Valley. We get only the wind and cold without the wet. It happens all the time.

In fact, it happened just this past week. We all watched with baited breath as the weather guy bit his knuckles anxiously and told us to batten down the hatches because of the big blizzard coming. And as usual, we got the wind, cold, and a light dusting of powdery snow while the Wasatch Front got clobbered.

The only time we get a good storm here is when the weather comes from southern California and Arizona. A southerly airflow brings low clouds into our horseshoe-shaped Castle Valley where they must unload the water to get to places like Vernal and Craig, Colorado. It usually only happens once or twice each year, so our area is one of the driest places in the state.

But, things could always be worse. We are a little better off than most of Nevada, and a lot better off than Death Valley. At least around here we have mountain reservoirs where we can tap a little irrigation water to get us through the dry summer months.

The average annual rainfall for the whole state of Utah is between 10 and 15 inches per year. Carbon County gets about half of that, averaging about seven inches of rain. To put that in perspective, the salt flats get almost five inches, Monticello gets 17, and some places on the mountains get as much as 40. But then, like Uncle Spud always says, seven inches of rain doesn't sound like much, but you ought to be here the day it shows up.

So, if you are wondering what the weather is going to be like on the Wasatch Behind tomorrow, forget the TV weather guy and look around you. Which way is the wind blowing and where are the clouds? Do cars headed east on highway six have snow on top? Can you see the top of Patmos Head above East Carbon, or is it covered with clouds? Is there lightening to the south around Cedar Mountain? Is the dog scratching on the door wanting to come in the house? Can you smell rain in the wind? Are the horses acting stupid? Do your old knees ache because the barometer is falling?

Those things tell more about Castle Country weather than Mark Snowbank or Jodi Saeland.

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January 16, 2007
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