Guest Opinion by the National Weather Service
Forecasting the Weather for the Wyoming Rancher
By Dan Berc and Chris Jones, National Weather Service, Riverton
Ever-changing weather conditions are some of the most critical considerations for the Wyoming rancher. Extreme cold during calving season, heavy rain during the hay harvest or a driving north wind can hinder ranching operations. In any instance, the National Weather Service can assist you in making important weather-related decisions.
After a near decade-long drought, Wyoming has seen a healthy rebound in precipitation the past two to three years. The winter of 2010-2011 saw record snowpack in many mountain ranges of Wyoming, and a cold spring allowed the snowpack to be retained well into June and early July. This excess snow caused record runoff and flooding across Wyoming, the Intermountain West and the Northern Plains states during the late spring and early summer.
While precipitation has been below average for the 2011-2012 winter thus far, current snowpack is at or better than 90 percent of normal across northern Wyoming and 70 to 90 percent of normal across southern portions of the state. Last year’s runoff has allowed current reservoir levels to be near or above seasonal normal. This water storage alleviates water supply concerns locally as enough water can be retained to get through a period of dry weather.
When forecasting long-term seasonal weather patterns, the National Weather Service (NWS) often utilizes global oscillation indices such as the El Niño/Southern Oscillation (ENSO) index. The current state of ENSO is a weak La Niña. Generally, a La Niña would indicate a trend toward cooler and wetter conditions in northwest Wyoming, with dry conditions elsewhere in the state. The current forecast is for the La Niña to weaken further in the coming months with the expectation of a more typical spring-like pattern.
The months of April, May and June are usually the wettest months of the year for areas of Wyoming east of the Continental Divide, so one big storm can often make a world of difference. While ENSO can be a good indicator of large scale weather patterns over longer periods of time, your current short-term forecast from the NWS can give a much better indication of expected conditions for planning ranch activities.
Your local NWS office provides many services that can be useful to the ranching community. Five NWS offices serve Wyoming by providing timely forecasts and current weather information. Meteorologists staff these offices 24 hours a day, every day of the year to monitor the weather and to issue watches, warnings and advisories when high-impact weather events are expected.
There are several ways to access the latest NWS forecast for your area. On the Internet you can visit weather.gov, where national weather information is available. You can click on your location to get to your local office page where more localized weather and climate information is available. On the local page, you will find a map identifying current watch, warning and outlook products. Just click your location on this map and a seven-day forecast for that that specific site is provided, along with current radar and satellite images. You can also visit the homepage of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup at wylr.net and access the NWS weather forecast by entering your zip code.
Need a forecast but unable to get to a computer? NOAA All-Hazards Weather Radio (NWR) may be a better option for you. There are 23 NWR transmitters serving Wyoming that broadcast current conditions, daily forecasts and hazardous weather information 24 hours a day. Special receivers can pick up NWR transmissions on one of seven dedicated frequencies and alert you when severe weather approaches. For information about a radio receiver to obtain weather information, visit weather.gov/nwr.
A unique service the NWS can provide is local weather forecasting knowledge. There is an NWS office serving every community and rural location in the United States. Each office is a round-the-clock operation, so if you have a question about the current forecast or the weather in general, you can call your local NWS office. You’ll be sure to get information from a meteorologist that understands your local needs. The Riverton NWS office serves western and central Wyoming and can be reached toll-free at 800-211-1448. Contact information for the Cheyenne, Billings, Rapid City, and Salt Lake City weather offices can be obtained from their respective websites.
NWS meteorologists strive to know what is going on at all times, but we can’t do it without meteorological data. The NWS relies on many sources to obtain the data to help accurately forecast the weather. A large portion of that data comes from public reports, which are particularly valuable in rural areas. You can always call your local NWS office to report weather events, but now there are more ways to report than ever before. NWS offices routinely receive updates through email, Facebook and the national volunteer precipitation observing network, CoCoRaHS (cocorahs.org). The NWS Riverton Facebook page (facebook.com/US.NationalWeatherService.Riverton.gov) has quickly gained a large following by providing a unique and useful way to interact with weather forecasters. You can get updates on hazardous weather, post weather reports and pictures and see what others are saying about the day’s weather.
Whenever your activities depend heavily on the weather, NWS forecasters are at the ready. If you feel you may need to take special precautions due to the weather during calving season, or are concerned about the wind or precipitation during the hay harvest, the NWS can help you make weather-sensitive decisions easier.
Dan Berc and Chris Jones are meteorologists with the National Weather Service in Riverton. When not scanning the skies, Berc can be reached at 307-857-3898 or Daniel.Berc@noaa.gov, and Jones can be reached at 307-857-3898 ext. 726 or at Chris.Jones@noaa.gov. Call the NWS if you are interested in scheduling a meteorologist to speak with your organization or club.