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October 14, 2008 12:02 am

First snow more than a teaser

Written by Tribune Staff

Strong storm causes harvest delays

This year's first snowstorm was a strong one.

Unlike the usual first storm of the season, the snow didn't fall briefly and immediately melt off; it stuck around for most of three days, accompanied by strong winds and was followed by temperatures of the deep-freeze variety.

Dan Berc, meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Riverton, said the storm dumped 5 inches of snow on Powell over the weekend, starting Friday evening and continuing through early Sunday morning.

Temperatures dipped to a low of 20 degrees on Monday morning, according to powellweather.net.

Cody got 7.5 inches of snow over the weekend, while Lovell got 4.1 inches.

But local snowfall totals were frozen drops in the bucket compared to our neighbors on the southern end of the Big Horn Basin and the central western part of Wyoming.

The storm dumped 2 feet of snow in some areas around Thermopolis, with the largest report of 25.3 inches, Berc said.

“That was very localized,” he said.

Meanwhile, Riverton got 12.1 inches in town, and Lander recorded 29.7 inches at the airport.

“That was the record October snowfall for a storm, and the seventh-greatest total of all time,” Berc said.

“For us, this was an unusually strong storm,” he added. “We can expect this to happen on occasion, but it is stronger than you would normally expect to happen this time of year.”

The storm was a result of moisture from the south converging with a storm coming from Alaska and cold air coming down from Canada, Berc said.

“It was kind of the perfect combination,” he said. “The storm was very slow moving... which allowed it to be longer-lasting than we normally would expect.”

Locally, the weekend snowstorm probably hasn't done long-term damage to most crops, but it will delay the harvest until fields can dry out from the approximately half-inch of moisture melting out of the snow.

For dry beans and alfalfa seed, the snow halted the harvest, which already had been lagging, said Mike Moore.

Moore, coordinator of the University of Wyoming Seed Certification Service, said the area bean crop has been 10 days to two weeks behind since planting, and the weekend's snowfall stopped growers from harvesting anything for a few more days. If the weather forecast holds, the snow could melt and beans will dry in time to be harvested under the right conditions, he said.

Weather this week calls for dry conditions for several days with increasingly warm temperatures, Berc said.

Moore estimated 50 to 60 percent of dry beans, both seed and commercial, have been harvested in the Big Horn Basin.

Bean plants in windrows will probably have to be fluffed to aid the drying process, which means losing more beans, Moore said.

“Some fields still out there are very green,” he said. “They're probably a total loss between the hard frost and a lot of foliage” still on the plants that will hold the snow.

“I don't know if they'll dry out,” Moore said. “The foliage will protect snow from the sun.”

The longer they stay wet, the less chance those beans will make it, he said.

Those fields “were on borrowed time anyway,” Moore said. It could be that “this is the death knell for those.”

Alfalfa seed harvest is also hampered by the snow, he said.

“There's still a fair amount of alfalfa seed out there to harvest and that kind of surprises me,” Moore said. “I don't know how that's going to dry out. Those folks might be sweating it a little bit.”

Snow trapped in alfalfa foliage will take time to melt and dry out, he said.