Sunday, March 11, 2012

Ruffling our Feathers


After three straight years of snow up to our rears and at times over our heads, we have had one of the warmest winters on record this year. We are definitely not complaining about the lack of subzero temperatures, and only slightly concerned that this could be the harbinger of a drought to come (hey, we're ranchers, we have to worry about something or what we do with all that spare time?) The one down side to all these balmy days has been the wind.

If you live on the east slope of the Rockies, you know wind. The Continental Divide is a very large upheaval in the earth and weather systems from the Pacific are pushed up the west side like skiers on a lift. Then they hit the top, crest over and WHHEEEEEEE!!!! Down they come and we're sittin' at the bottom of the run.

For reasons I'm to lazy to look up or explain, this is magnified when it gets abnormally toasty in the fall, winter or spring, which is why are our local slogan is "Be a pretty nice day if it weren't for the wind". So, yes, we're used to the breeze. No one even comments on it much until it tops fifty miles an hour. When the gusts start blasting over a hundred though, even here where everything is either securely nailed down or already gone, damage happens.

The granary in the foreground has been in the bottom of this little coulee longer than I can remember, but the one in the back has stood on the hill behind it my whole life, until December. As damage goes, though, this is fairly minimal. Our bigger concern in these windstorms is the roofs on the big steel  buildings: the roping arena and calving barns. So far, they've been up to the test.

Unfortunately, there's a second downside to no snow. Thousands and thousands of acres of dry prairie. In January, another wind storm hit and this one knocked down power lines and started this:

Photo taken Wednesday Jan.4,2011 showing smoke and fire rising over Browning Mt. (AP Photo/Angelika Harden-Norman)

Photo courtesy of the Great Falls Tribune

It's estimated nearly 18,000 acres of grassland burned, but only one house, which tells you how widely spaced the houses are around here. Also, though, with the wind whipping the flames along at over fifty miles an hour, a rural firefighter told me it was actually moving too fast in most places to catch on heavier fuel like wooden structures.

So now it's March, traditionally one of our windiest months, we have almost no snow left and the temperatures have been in the fifties. Mostly we're enjoying the warmth, but yes, some days that wind can really ruffle your feathers.

Addendum: This great horned owl likes to spend his days in the huge spruce tree in our back yard. Unfortunately for photographic purposes, he prefers the higher branches. And unfortunately for your viewing purposes there is no video of me clambering up onto my parents' icy metal roof in a windstorm, dragging myself up and over the peak and skidding down the other side to take this video, then turning around and realizing the trip back might not actually be possible. THAT video probably would have gone viral on the Internet. Too bad. You have to settle for the owl. 

I've also updated the Songs and Stories page. Pop over and meet the Bills: Billy Talent and Bill Cameron. 


Linda G. said...

That is one very cool video. Thanks for risking life and limb to provide it. Too bad we're not getting the one of you taking it, too. ;)

Patty Blount said...

I've never visited your neck of the woods and honestly, it sounds beautiful - wind and all. Growing up in New York, I struggle to imagine places where the houses are spread out and acres of grass exist. Hard to wrap my mind around it.

midnightblooms said...

(hey, we're ranchers, we have to worry about something or what we do with all that spare time?)

Wait, ranchers have spare time? Damnit, I knew I was in the wrong profession!

Darlene Underdahl said...

The wind!

Although I was born and raised on a farm in Northern Minnesota, my husband and I now live on the east side of the Sierras (Reno area). We have a small weather station on our house, and the winds have topped one hundred MPH at least once this winter.

The weather is mild, little moisture, and fire is a major concern. There were three this past year, and one almost took our house. While I’m on the subject, I’d like to give a shout-out to firefighters; best folks on Earth! We had to evacuate quickly, valuable stuff was lying around, and they only took one cookie… because I offered them before we fled!