Whiteout

This morning we woke to a thick blanket of snow. The winter wonderland began a few days before, but the real accumulation arrived Monday. It was so great to see this weather arrive, but with frozen water comes a lot of chaos. In the forest, tree branches drooped heavily to the ground as ominous cracking echoed through the dense canopy. Much of our snow was the light feathery kind, which gently drifted off the treetops in light breezes. It would have been another story if high winds had picked up. Where was the gale? Upon yonder Cascades, where I ran into the storm before it struck home up on Steven’s Pass.

I was able to safely take this photo at a stand still up on Rt. 2, just over Steven’s Pass ski mountain. The wind blowing powder off the trees created whiteout conditions along the highway. A few times the loss of site came unexpectedly, and more than once I threw on hazard lights as I slowed to a stop on a road where in normal conditions, I would be flying along at 60mph. More than once I watched someone try to speed up and pass, only to fishtail along and slide back into line. Driving is never a good choice in a storm- especially a snow storm on a mountain top.

Back at EEC Forest Stewardship, the silence was deafening, thick snowflakes fell on and off for several days. I watched the heaviest dump I’d ever seen in one sitting fall that Monday. Rarely do we get such light fluffy stuff accumulating more than a few inches, but this storm felt like something out of The Rockies, Colorado. Cascade snow is usually wet and heavy, turning to cement faster than you can get a fresh set of tracks down the mountain. I did not ski this champagne snow, but I did have a lot of fun running around in it with my pup. The livestock are not fans of snow days, so they held up in dry, warm stalls.

The ewes are due to lamb very soon, I was really worried they would drop in the storm, but luckily, everyone held on through the cold spell. If they had, we might have been hosting sheep in the garage with heat lamps for the first time. If the climate continues to offer heavy snow, the livestock operations will have to be enhanced to cope with the change. Temperate rain forest might just be heading towards sub-alpine winter conditions. Hauling water and breaking ice is never fun on a farm, but future barn design will incorporate more stable water systems.

After large snow events, floods follow, and the small salmon stream at EEC, Weiss Creek, has begun to build flow as the snow starts to melt. The snow offers good tracking- the sign of animal tracks in the fresh powder. Another inhabitant of the land found coyote prints cutting across the land in the stream buffer. We love to see evidence of wildlife traversing the habitat cultivated for them across the landscape. Snow events are a challenging time for the ecology of this region. Extra care of livestock is also required, with more frequent water checks and feed to supplement a lack of pasture time.

Seeing the world in a white cloak gives new perspective, as well as a chance to study flooding across the property as the cold melts. Puddles and surface flow mark areas of more extreme runoff across already saturated soil. Erosion can happen in the blink of an eye, and even after less than a foot of snow, our creek banks have been reshaped well over a foot by recent runoff in the fast melt. The valley below is in it’s third major flooding this season, and with a week of rain to follow, we won’t be getting much reprieve before more water falls. The Cascades might sometimes be shrouded in snow, but the flowing waters continue in the foothills below.

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