City Creek Nature Notes – Salt Lake City

February 3, 2017

February 2nd

Filed under: Weather — canopus56 @ 8:11 pm

Weather Variation

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4:30 p.m. It rained this morning and in the canyon. The snow has continued to recede. At the north end of picnic site 1, a hummingbird nest is beginning to unravel, but one a feet hundred feet canyon that is made of finer bladed grass and of a better quality of construction, continues to survive against the snow and rain. I can see why hummingbirds disassemble and rebuild their nests each year. The Bald-faced wasp nest below picnic site 1 (Dec. 18th) has been worn down to its core. Three ducks have returned to the flood retention pond. Although the snow is receding, I only see a deer above the lower canyon while I am driving home.

As modern urban humans, we are ill-adapted to perceive the highly variable weather of Utah. I am struck in reading Thoreau’s journals just how variable the weather is on a particular day across the years. On March 12, 1854, saw the first robin of the season and recorded bare earth with no snow. On March 12th, 1856, he reported heavy snow drifts. On February 8th, 1860, he records the temperature at +43 degree Fahrenheit, but on February 8th, 1861, a -22 degree temperature.

Modern urban life provides other tools not dreamed of by Thoreau with which weather changes can be followed. One such tool is the tangle of automated stations that guide our imperfect, subjective perception of weather. In addition to the over 900 stations in the SNOTEL system (Feb. 1st), National Weather Service and city stations also collect snow, rain and snowpack depth information that provide an indirect indication of severity of winter in the canyon (NOAA, 2017; Weather Warehouse.com). NWS stations are located at the City’s major airport and one of the highest accessible point of the Wasatch Front Mountain Range: Alta Ski Resort at the end of Little Cottonwood Canyon. Alta began recording snowfall data in 1944 and the City airport began reliable recording in 1950. Another form of indirect indication of the severity of winter in the canyon comes from stream flow data, and the city has recorded stream from the water treatment plants outflow chute at mile 3.2 since 1950. Wasatch Front streams flow into the Great Salt Lake, and the Lake is the longest running climate indicator for canyon. Having no outlet and being very shallow, the level of the lake during the winter and summer indirectly shows and correlates with the depth of the spring snowpack and total annual precipitation in the Wasatch Front Mountain Range canyons. The level of the lake has been recorded continuously since 1875 (USGS, 2017a, USGS, 2017b), and in the summer of 2016, it dropped to a new historical low of 4,190.1 feet (id). Wang and colleagues at Utah State University and DeRose at the U.S. Forest Service Rocky Mountain Research Station have used tree rings and climate data to estimate the historical lake level going back to the 1400s (DeRose et al) and to associate annual precipitation cycles in the Wasatch Front Mountains with changes in the North Pacific Ocean (Wang et al). Orbiting LANDSAT satellites imaging the Earth in multiple spectra allow anyone to track the rise and ebb of the Great Salt Lake (Deamer) and foresters to estimate changes in the size and composition of the forest’s trees.

From one of those indirect indicators of snowfall in the region and the canyon, annual snowfall at the city airport, I prepare a chart of its distribution. In 2013 to 2016, snowfall ranges from the lower third to the upper third. Each degree of snow and cold is associated with widely differing combinations and population levels of mammals and birds, and of plant growth. This variation in weather, and hence, of animals and plants, reminds me that the canyon or any other natural place cannot be known by experiencing any one year. To truly witness the canyon’s many faces would take years, and that was Thoreau’s intent in keeping his long-term journal. At best, like one of Plato’s men in the cave, I can only obtain a faint reflection of canyon’s breadth of behavior. But in our time, we have many more tools to see that reflection more clearly than Thoreau could have imagined.

In Thoreau’s “Journal” on February 3rd, 1852, he sees the Moon reflected in crystals of surface snow hoar. On February 3rd, 1856, he watches a hawk pursue a nuthatch. He notes that high winds freshly scatter seeds and nuts on the fresh snow’s surface, and birds eat them.

On February 3, 1991, the City Parks Department considered proposals to renovate the vacant Memorial House in Memory Grove (Salt Lake Tribune). The house had been rented by the Gold Star Mothers and Silver Star Legion since 1926 (Salt Lake Tribune). On February 3, 1900, the Tribune reported that on the previous night, the City Waterworks Committee approved City Engineer Kelsey’s plan to increase the City’s water supply (Salt Lake Tribune).

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