How high a beaver builds its dam is one way ranchers have predicted winter weather and early springs. Moffat County residents also recall old sayings such as skunk cabbage growing tall and measuring the width of the black band on the orange and black caterpillar to determine the severity of the coming winter.

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How high a beaver builds its dam is one way ranchers have predicted winter weather and early springs. Moffat County residents also recall old sayings such as skunk cabbage growing tall and measuring the width of the black band on the orange and black caterpillar to determine the severity of the coming winter.

Divining the weather

County residents attempt to predict severity of winter based on environmental observations, summer patterns

— Each year, beginning in late summer and continuing into fall, county ranchers begin thinking about the type of winter to come. Will there be enough snow for irrigation water for the next spring? Will there be another drought?

People try to recall winters that have followed various summer weather patterns. And there are predictions based on environmental observations, too. Some of these predictions have been passed down for generations.

For example, if the hornets build their nests up high, it's a sign of a hard winter to come. Or, if the horses grow heavy coats of hair, it will be cold. And, a hot, dry summer means a cold, snowy winter.

It's not certain as to the hornets' nests prior to this winter, but the horses probably have heavy coats (at least the cows do). And last summer was surely hot and dry.

Curiosity as to other observations predicting winter (or spring) weather and to ranchers' views about our present winter, led me to call some county residents.

Ervin and Arloa Gerber, who live west of Craig, say there's probably a foot of snow on the level at their ranch. At least that's what it measures in an area where the wind hasn't affected the snow much.

Arloa says, "It snows a little, that snow settles, and more is added again, so that it stays about a foot."

The Gerbers remember two old sayings about winter weather. If the skunk cabbage grows tall in summer, there will be more snow in winter. And if the woolly worms have long hair, it will be colder.

"The Slip Stitchers," a Hamilton sewing group made up of the area's ranch women, pondered the prediction of winter weather as they sewed Wednesday.

The women know about the skunk cabbage prediction, too. They say the height of the skunk cabbage (which they point out isn't really skunk cabbage at all), determines the depth of snow.

The Hamilton group also recalls that the width of the black band on the orange and black caterpillar helps determine the depth of snow and length of winter.

And then the sewing group turns scientific. They say the ring around the moon designates a snow (or storm) coming. If the ring is big around the moon, the storm is a little way off. The tighter the ring is around the moon, the closer the storm is.

The women can explain how this is so. The moon is reflecting off ice particles and moisture (both winter and summer), and the more it reflects off the moon makes the rings closer around the moon.

Also, a sun dog predicts storm, following the same principle.

The Hamilton ladies add their view about the snow.

"It's nice to have it. Agriculture people aren't unhappy with the snow."

Bill and Ramona Green have 1 1/2 to 2 feet of snow on the level at the ranch north of Craig. Bill says, "We still need rain in the summer."

Sam McIntyre said the snow at his family's ranch in Maybell has settled to about a foot, but there's a lot of water in it. In fact, Sam says that the snow is "as hard as a rock."

Sam adds that there's no frost in the ground. He hopes the snow stays on the ground until calving time. That way, maybe water will go in the ground.

Sam remembers a winter prediction having to do with the beaver.

"If the beaver's house is high, there will be deep snow," he says, adding, "Lately, though, that hasn't worked out."

Florence Van Tassel thinks that winter storm patterns have seemed to be "twisted around" out east where she lives.

"More storms this year have started from the north and south, while they usually start east and west."

And as to the amount of snow on her ranch, Florence simply says, "It's deep."

About a prediction regarding spring's arrival, Bill Green says, "I don't have a clue."

Sam says, "I'll tell you more about it next spring."

Longtime resident Ervin Gerber chuckles. "I haven't lived here long enough to predict the weather."

Kenneth Osborn, who is 90 years old and has lived in the area his whole life, believes there's something to the prediction that an early Easter means an early spring. Florence agrees (This year, Easter is March 23).

And Majorie Forbes, who has about 3 feet of snow on her Morapos ranch, says, "You know what they say about people who predict Colorado weather. They're either newcomers or darn fools."

Next weekend, the groundhog will get his chance to predict how long it is before spring.

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