Has anybody noticed the abundance of huge Ponderosa Pine cones? It’s the biggest pinecone crop in the 20-plus years I’ve been at my house. Does this predict a wonderfully wet spring and so the trees are planting lots of babies? Or do the Ponderosas sense a dry season and are spewing seeds to make sure a few get through a drought. What is Mother Nature telling us? – Conehead
As a longtime Southwest Colorado resident, you know that Mother Nature doesn’t “tell” us anything. Mother Nature shouts hysterically. She has these unpredictable, violent outbursts that frighten people.
In other words, our climate is a Donald Trump rally.
However, there’s an important difference. Mother Nature gives us the silent treatment between tantrums. The Donald just won’t shut up. But that’s barking up the wrong tree.
Is Mother Nature having a hissy fit or going into a sulk? And what do the Ponderosas know? For answers, we turn to Kent Grant, district forester for the Colorado State Forest Service.
Kent had been doing some fieldwork in the pines north of town. “I hadn’t really noticed if there were more cones,” he said. “But cone crops will vary greatly by location.”
Kent confirmed prodigious Ponderosa panicles can result from drought stress or the opposite, abundant moisture.
“I would have to say that the robust cone crop is a result of all the snow from last winter and from the cool, wet spring.”
Our good friend Darrin Parmenter has a different theory. Darrin is the director and horticulture agent of the La Plata County Extension Office.
In other words, he’s a tree whisperer.
“It’s gotta be PGH, or pine growth hormone. The trees are doping,” he said with a chuckle.
If that’s the case, we’ll have to issue a lifetime ban from the forest and strip the trees of their championships.
That would be a big deal. Along Hermosa Creek, there’s a 160.6-foot tall Ponderosa, the tallest of its kind in all the Rocky Mountains.
Perhaps we should name it Lance Armstrong.
On the back page of the paper, under the weather forecast, there’s the San Juan Basin snow report. Colored lines showing yearly sown accumulation from 2011 to present and a black line represents the “average.” Why do the annual lines rarely approach the “average” black line? Average should be in the middle, right? Sign me, Average Joe.
Good observation. Only on a couple of occasions does the snowpack exceed the “average,” usually in the early part of winter.
Only in the 2014-15 winter did the snowpack surpass average at the all-important runoff time.
The graph comes from data collected by the National Weather Service Colorado Basin River Forecast Center.
So Action Line called up the center and spoke with John Lhotak, the development and operations hydrologist.
The average is not the average of five previous snow seasons, he said from his Salt Lake City office.
“Rather, it’s based on 30 years of past measurements, from 1981 to 2011. So that’s the discrepancy,” he said.
“Looking at the graph, especially for late January and through February, El Niño really didn’t pan out,” he added.
So Durango is below average, which won’t sit well with most locals, tourism officials, real estate agents and civic boosters.
The entire local economy is based on being above average. No one would want to live “The Durango Lifestyle” if Durango is on the wrong side of the bell curve!
It must be something in the water that’s not there.
Email questions to firstname.lastname@example.org or mail them to Action Line, The Durango Herald, 1275 Main Ave., Durango, CO 81301. You can request anonymity if your snow shovel is still on the front porch so as to not jinx the possibilities of spring storms.