Bill Biddle

Bill Biddle

Editor’s note: Bill Biddle has been writing Weatherwatch for the Methow Valley News for nearly 20 years. He died June 7, 2012, a few days after submitting this column. According to his son Peter, Bill said that his fascination with weather began when he was looking out the window in Latin class watching the clouds and learning their names. He loved weather and loved writing about the valley.

Enjoy Bill Biddle’s final Weatherwatch column:


Summer flies in

By Bill Biddle

As we established last month, water flow in our rivers can tell us a great deal about not just what’s happening up in our mountains now, but it also lets us peer into the past as well as into the future. As of early June you can still look out at the confluence of the Methow and Chewuch rivers and see an interesting water phenomenon.

Both rivers remain quite high, as Weatherwatch and our loyal readers knew they would be, not just a month but even years ago. But the water itself has as much to tell us about our weather as the water level. While the Methow flows the lovely Coke-bottle green we know and love, the Chewuch is as dark brown as a piping hot cup of fresh Backcountry Coffee Roasters coffee.

Why is this? Why such a stark contrast in these kindred waters? Winthrop is further away from the Methow’s higher elevations which are also not as high as those of the Chewuch. They aren’t snow-free yet but there’s less snow left to melt. The Chewuch draws from higher elevations closer to Winthrop and across a broader area which still has significant snow reserves that will last longer into the year. When snow melts in large quantities it tends to bring a lot of earth down with it.

Based on this contrast I think we can reasonably declare that our high-water is not yet behind us. Weatherwatch will hazard a guess that the Chewuch will be running clear by the middle of the month. It’s hard to believe that here in June – in SUMMER! – some of us might still be running our snow machines in our remaining snow.

Your Weatherwatch observer has not previously called upon bandanas for our weather report. Poems, yes. Songs? Occasionally. Cloth? Not so much. But as we write this we are looking at an actual gaggle (it’s an actual number, you can look it up) of colorful bandanas purchased at the Twisp market on Memorial Day weekend. It turns out that these serve as an excellent metaphorical platform for weather watching.

Our new brown Carhart bandana is as brown as the Chewuch is now. This signifies the iron-like grip that winter is only just loosening on our upper elevations.

The worn and faded orange bandana reminds us of the crowns of the female mergansers you can see right now in our rivers, streams, lakes and ponds. While mergansers are noble birds, if you have fish in your ponds you need to be extra vigilant in June! We have many species of migratory fowl flying through the Methow on their way north for summer breeding. A badelynge of mergansers can clean out a small pond of unwary domesticated fish in less time than it takes to eat a Sheri’s double scoop.

One of these new bandanas has a southwest plains Native American theme to it and this reminds Weatherwatch to tell you that, in spite of the low temps, we will have some hot temps this June as well – at least 90 degrees for over 5 days this month.

Our dull, faded red bandana represents the headwaters of the Chewuch, where the burned countryside reminds us of fires only recently fading into the past. These fires also help explain the amount of dirt in the Chewuch river now – fewer plants have fewer roots which thus hold less dirt in place.

Lastly, we have a bright red bandana which represents the actual flames Weatherwatch observed this week past in one of the controlled burns west of town. We admit that our upbringing of “zero tolerance” for wilderness fires means we must steel ourselves when we see flames merrily licking at the trunks of our pines, but these burns encourage tree growth, reduce weeds and ensure that our woods are more robust to future accidental fires.

Speaking of which, high water levels are also indicative of fewer days this summer of the newly-named Cumulous Pyro (named here in this column!) smoke-clouds that form above forest fires. Some of these clouds will drench parts of the valley later in the summer. Be thankful that these thunderstorm freshets will occur later and will bring no major fires in June and perhaps only one in July. These small fires are likely to be started by lightning strikes in remote but lower elevations. With high elevations still quite damp in June, Weatherwatch predicts that our intrepid smoke jumpers will contain all June and perhaps even July fires before they can spread significantly.

June, the prince of summer, will be followed by July, our Queen, and August, our King. The big summer we all know and love here in the Methow will be shorter than normal, but also sweeter as well, with spectacular flowers and more reasonable temperatures.