By Bill Schillinger, director, Extension Lind Station
LIND, Wash. – The eastern Washington town of Lind broke a record this winter for having the longest streak of snow cover since employees at Washington State University’s Dryland Research Station started keeping records 100 years ago.
Ironically, the Lind station is nestled amid some of the driest wheat-growing land in the world.
Now that the freakish amount of snow has melted, millions of acres of dryland winter wheat in the Inland Northwest stand to benefit a big way.
In a region that gets an average of 9.56 inches of precipitation each year, “this winter was exceptional. In my 16 years of working here, I’ve never seen anything like it,” said WSU technician Brian Fode, the current weather data collector at the Lind station.
Starting Dec. 6, snow blanketed the ground for 76 consecutive days, breaking the previous record of 70 days set two winters in a row, 1984-86.
Knowing how much snow is on the ground and for how long helps farmers plan for the crop season, Fode said.
Wheat, farmers to benefit
Winter wheat seeded in late summer goes dormant during winter. As the crop resumes growth in spring, it draws moisture from the soil. Thanks to this winter’s ample snow cover, “the level of stored water in the soil is excellent. Because wheat yield potential is strongly correlated with available water, this is very good news for farmers,” said Bill Schillinger, WSU professor and director of the Lind station.
Snow got so deep that cresting drifts blocked the chain-link gate leading to the weather monitoring equipment and Fode had to shovel them out of the way.
With the exception of the thigh-high drifts, snow depth often measured up to a half-foot during the 76-day period. To get an idea of how unusual this is, consider that a total of 2.7 inches of snow fell during the entire 2014-15 winter.
Devoted weather buffs
The Lind station was recently honored by the National Weather Service for 100 years of dutifully recording weather data.
Since 1917, WSU employees like Fode have recorded temperatures, precipitation levels, winds and other data every afternoon, seven days a week for the National Weather Service. And yes, even on Christmas and New Year’s Day.
If Fode is out of town or sick, WSU colleagues Bruce Sauer or Samantha Crow fill in. They are among the agency’s 10,000 “cooperative weather observers” coast to coast — in suburbs and national parks, on mountaintops and among farmlands.
Their daily monitoring underpins local and national weather reports, forecasts, alerts and warnings, said meteorologist Mark Turner with the Spokane weather service. The information they gather also helps shed light on the ways our climate is changing, he explained.
“They and all the volunteer observers before them are the backbone of our climate and weather data collection network,” he said, adding that the 100 years of data collected has been used by dryland farmers, water managers, WSU researchers and, of course, meteorologists.
Besides being a standby weather reader, Crow pores through ledgers of meticulously handwritten weather measurements and observations stretching back 10 decades. Then she enters the information into a computerized database.
This winter, her car got stuck in deep snow on the uphill driveway leading to WSU’s Lind station. Fode used a tractor to pull her out.