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Roger Marolt: Roger This

Roger MaroltThe Aspen TimesAspen, CO Colorado

The weather man has to chill out. Lately he’s so prone to exaggeration that I call him The Boy Who Cried Storm or Chicken Piddle, running around wailing “the snow is falling, the snow is falling!” and then nothing. I rely on this guy. I am a faithful National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) fan. You think “fan” is a strong word to use here? I’ve got their website bookmarked. I visit it before every meal. I dress by the hourly observations. I plan by the seven-day forecast. I decide whether or not to mount new skis by the long-range outlooks. I’m addicted to the satellite images. The radar streaming is enough to make me drool … OK, that’s an exaggeration. It seems embellishment is contagious! I don’t know what’s happened at NOAA lately. It’s like they’ve hired an unemployed Hollywood horror writer to pen their storm watches and warnings. If everything they’ve written about big storms thus far this young winter had come to pass, we would now be crawling out of second-floor windows and hiring track hoes to dig out our cars. Instead, at my house in the snow sparse side of Snowmass Village I’ve shoveled the driveway twice, once just to get some fresh air and work on my tan. All the low pressure hyperbole started the week before Thanksgiving. My wife drove to Denver to do a little first-minute Christmas shopping. Big time. Anyway, no sooner had she pulled out of the driveway when a winter storm warning was posted on the NOAA website. So dire was it that I began to worry if our roof would stand up to the predicted prodigious dump. The storm was to hit full force on Sunday when Susan would be coming home with lots of toys and goodies in her Honda. The forecast was calling for a major storm with from 2 to 4 feet of snow piling up in the central Colorado Mountains. That’s right; up to 4 feet of fresh snow was expected! Now, excuse me for playing the local card here, but in the 48 years I have lived in this town I can remember only one dump that was legitimately over 2 feet. It was 25 inches that fell at the top of Aspen Mountain. It was more like 18 in town. It was memorable because we had to hike for half an hour across the flats of Ruthie’s to get first tracks on Aztec. They turned out to be straight down the crux of America’s Downhill trail because any turn would have meant completely bogging down to a standstill. Two feet is a gigantic storm for these parts!So, you can imagine my concern with twice that amount of snow predicted for exactly the time when my beloved would be traveling over Vail Pass. I called her and discussed a delay in her return, but the forecast called for treacherous conditions to persist for days. Susan assured me that she would be extremely cautious and be prepared to pull off the road if things got scary. Well, I worried all night and the next day. The weather turned out to be only partly cloudy here, but I was sure that it must have been really nasty up higher. As it turned out, I-70 over the pass was just a little wet. Phew, we dodged a bullet!Then came the infamous Dec. 20 storm that nobody remembers three weeks later: NOAA predicted between 6 and 8 feet of snow for Aspen! I’m like you; I thought it was a typo and they meant 6 to 8 inches. But no; they reposted the warning with emphasis. They used the word “epic” three times to describe the storm. They said people living in the affected areas should consider stockpiling provisions. There were to be widespread road closures for extended periods. Travel over mountain passes was likely to be impossible. Bummer! We were supposed to drive to Midland, Texas. We considered canceling the trip, but then came to the conclusion that we at least had to try. It was Christmas, after all! If it got really bad, we could always turn around … or dig a snow cave and eat the dog. I couldn’t sleep the night before we left; I was so struck with fear. I tossed and turned and got out of bed at 4 in the morning, woke everyone, and headed into the tempest. Lo and behold, it rained all the way to Minturn. We plowed through a couple inches of fresh snow over Tennessee Pass and into Leadville. By the time we reached Buena Vista the roads were dry. In all fairness to NOAA, though, the skies were an unusually dark gray.A week later when we returned, it was a similar story: big winter storm warning with predicated accumulations measured in feet! It turned out to be little trouble getting home with flurries in Avon and spitting drizzle in Glenwood Springs. Do you see where I’m going with this? As far as I’m concerned the person who writes the NOAA notices and warnings has about as much credibility as a Broncos defensive coordinator. All of these huge predictions have amounted to a winter for which the snowpack is currently 122 percent of average on Independence Pass; good for sure, but not “epic.”Sure, I know NOAA has to err on the side of caution to make sure everybody is prepared for the big storms. But, I’m afraid they have erred so much that few prepare at all anymore. They’ve been so wrong that some people now get ready for the opposite of what they predict – “Oh, it’s supposed to snow really hard today? OK, did we put on plenty of sunscreen, kids?”What really irks me heading into the heart of winter, though, is that I no longer feel like I have a reliable source to help me foresee good powder days on the slopes. Oh well. I guess I’ll just have to prepare the old-fashioned way – look out the window.

Roger Marolt wonders if the kids would have school the next day if it snowed 8 feet. He’s deep in thought at roger@maroltllp.com.


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