The Hundredth Meridian

The Warming of the West

We know that nothing in this world stays the same.  What we do not know is how or why it doesn’t.  Probably, this is because we do not need to know.

After five or six years in western Wyoming, in the late 1970’s and early 80’s, I recognized what seemed a stable weather pattern.  Summers were warm and dry, except for the afternoon thunderstorms.  By the end of June, the prairie had browned and stayed that way until after the monsoon that commenced like clockwork in mid-August and lasted until the start of September.  Around the end of the first week of the month, an overnight storm dropped six inches of snow that melted off by ten in the morning.  From then on, a perfect Indian Summer prevailed, dry and warm and windless under a shiny, cloudless sky—until the first of the snowstorms that rolled in without warning from the Pacific in the last week of October and kept on coming until Christmas.  January and the first part of February were dry and very cold, with temperatures as low as -50 degrees, before the chinook thaw in mid-February arrived.  March was wet again, and the biggest winter storms came in April.  From mid-May, the prairie was green and fresh until the heat and drought of early summer seared it in late June.  The pattern seemed fixed as the constellations in their seasonal course—before, in the mid-80’s, it came apart in the drought years...

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