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Weather watch out

Moffat County resident finds fun in monitoring atmospheric conditions

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— Imagine snowdrifts piling 4 feet high.

Envision 12 feet of snow in a single season.

Finally, picture a flood that filled a Wyoming church with 18 inches of water.

Nancy Wiggins has seen them all, and she has the numbers to back it up.

She has between four and five notebooks in her home, she said - annuals recording more than 40 years of Colorado and Wyoming weather.

"People say you talk about the weather when there's nothing else to talk about," Wiggins said. "Not in our family."

Wiggins lives in Moffat County's northernmost corner, about 42 miles outside of Craig. She has been a climate observer for the National Weather Service's Grand Junction office for about 10 years and has kept an eye on the weather for Carbon County, Wyo., officials for 30 years.

She records the daily high and low temperatures and precipitation for the Weather Service. Wiggins also keeps her eyes on the sky, watching for severe storms and reporting their development to the Grand Junction office.

It's not that the Weather Service doesn't have the tools to monitor climate and precipitation.

"We have Doppler radar that sees our area pretty good," Weather Service meteorologist Jim Pringle said, "and we have satellite imagery and have handful weather surface observers."

Still, sometimes technology can't replace a watchful pair of eyes.

"We have these resources," Pringle said, "but none of these resources will tell you if there's a tornado on the ground (or) if it's hailing and if so, how big the hailstones are."

That's where volunteer weather spotters step in.

"These people fill in the blanks for us," Pringle said. "They provide us with the ground truth information that is vital for us to do our jobs accurately, particularly when it comes to issuing weather warnings."

The Weather Service is looking for more volunteers. A weather spotter training is scheduled from 7 to 9 p.m. April 28 at the Moffat County Fairgrounds Pavilion, 640 E. Victory Way.

The trainings teaching volunteers how to identify and report severe storm conditions to the Weather Service.

Wiggins is one of those volunteers, and the job fits.

She and her husband, Bill, began watching weather together in 1965.

"Nothing official - just for ourselves," she said. "We've always been interested in the weather."

Wiggins' interest in weather watching lies in the numbers.

"The more information you gather, the more interesting it is," she said.

For instance, precipitation levels gain more significance when compared to those of other areas.

Parts of Alaska can receive up to 12 feet of rain in a year, she said.

In contrast, "12 inches of rain, and we'd be floating away," Wiggins said.

Wiggins keeps track of other information.

An inch of snow in Moffat County sometimes yields less than one-tenth an inch of water, she said.

Then, she paused.

"Let me look," she said. "I sometimes get my numbers confused."

When her memory fails, Wiggins turns to the notebook. Her records show a snowstorm's moisture content varies depending on the type of snowfall.

Wiggins should know. She measures both snowfall and its moisture content on a regular basis.

Still, aridness wasn't a problem during the winter of 1983-84, she said.

That year takes prominence in her records as the winter that accumulated 145 inches.

"I've never measured any more than that or anywhere near that," she said.

Two days of 80-degree weather that spring caused sudden snowmelt that flooded the Baggs, Wyo., Little Snake River Community Church with 18 inches of water, she said.

Her thoughts during those months: "I was glad I didn't live in Baggs," she said, laughing.

In the end, weather watching comes down to awareness.

"I always pay attention to the sky and what's going on," Wiggins said.

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