Common sense and a lonely rifle

Cow-Calf Commentary

The other day I happened to catch part of a television weather report. That’s a bit uncommon for me as I haven’t owned or operated a television for more than five years. I was visiting with Mom, though, and she had her kitchen television tuned in to a Denver station for the evening news.

The weather reporter caught my attention when she gushingly described the present month as “almost the coldest April on record, yet more evidence of climate change.”

Interestingly, over the next several days I heard from a number of kind souls who were anxious to tell me about the unusual frigidity of the present month and the dire future it might presage.

Being a curious fellow, I wondered. Is April 2018 indeed “almost the coldest April on record?”

Fortunately, there’s a way to check.

Thus far this April at Kimball the daily high has averaged 55.13 degrees, about 4.5 degrees cooler than the long-term average since 1893. The daily low has averaged 27.17 degrees, about 4 degrees cooler than the average of 30.9. The daily mean temperature has averaged 41.14 degrees, about 4 degrees cooler than the long-term average of 45.2. So, with a week to go in a month which steadily warms as spring gains hold, April 2018 has indeed been four degrees cooler than the long term average.

So how does that compare to the billing of “almost the coldest April on record?” Is that a fair assessment? Here’s what I found when I checked the database at the High Plains Regional Climate Center website,

When we look at April’s mean daily temperature (the average of the daily high and daily low) at Kimball since 1893, the long-term average is, as I mentioned above, 45.2 degrees. Thus far (as of April 24) we’re about 4 degrees cooler at 41.14 degrees. To my mind, “almost the coldest” would mean that only one or two, or at most five, Aprils have been cooler. What does the record have to say about that? As it turns out, there have been nine cooler Aprils. 1909, 1920, 1945, 1951, 1953, 1957,1983, 1984, 1997, 2013. So, in 8 percent of the years since 1893, April at Kimball has been cooler than April 2018.

But wait, there’s more! If the final six days of the month average 63 for the high and 32 for the low, which seems likely according to the forecast, the daily mean temperature for the month will average 42.63 degrees. That’s still 2.6 degrees cooler than the long-term average, but 25 of the last 124 years have featured an April averaging 42.6 degree or less, and that’s 20 percent. One in five.

At the end of the day it’s good to remember that our climate is, and has been for at least millions of years, a variable climate. Short term temperature variations simply do not equate to climate change, particularly catastrophic climate change.

And now, for something entirely different...

After last week’s storm had passed and the state department of roads ensured that conditions were safe enough for crews to plow light snow on a warming and sunny blue-sky spring day...

I fired up the Lincoln and headed northwest for Guernsey, Wyoming. I had a training conference to attend.

Guernsey is hard by the North Platte River, not far downstream from Guernsey Dam, which itself isn’t far from the headwaters of the river.

The river flow comes from precipitation – largely in the form of snowpack – that flows off of the east side of the Rocky Mountains. The water flows downhill to join the South Platte and therefore become simply the Platte River, which flows across Nebraska and into the Missouri River, which flows into the Mississippi, and, eventually, into the Gulf of Mexico.

The Guernsey area was an important stop along the various trails pioneers took moving west, chiefly the Oregon Trail. The Pony Express had a route station there, too, and a favorite stopping/camping place was Sand Point/Register Cliff.

When I was a lad of 16, and to my everlasting shame, I carved my initials in that cliff. Today it looks like my initials have been obliterated by the work of a later generation of idiots. It’s now a crime to mar the cliff, and the practice seems to have stopped.

In 1932 the people of Guernsey commemorated the pioneers by erecting a number of monuments, at the city park in town and out by Sand Point and Register Cliff. In town, at the city park, there is a painted concrete plinth which is one of the commemorative markers. And on one side of the plinth an old, rusty, weather-worn rifle is affixed. Curiosity aroused, I took some pictures and researched the rifle.

When I chased down the serial number I learned the rifle is quite likely a Swiss Vetterli 1869/71. These rifles are pretty interesting. Fascinating, actually. They were the first breech-loading, magazine-fed, bolt-action, metallic cartridge military rifles.

How exactly the rifle came to be in Guernsey and become affixed to the plinth I do not know. The museum wasn’t open, and the few folks I asked had no idea. America is a nation of immigrants, though, so it shouldn’t be terribly surprising that such a rifle would find its way to Wyoming.

Part of me cringes to see the rifle in this condition. It’s not my place to judge, however, what the people of Guernsey did in 1932, nor what they have done in the intervening 86 years. And I do have to thank them for providing me with a mystery, even though I defaced their cliff back in the day. It’s been quite enjoyable to explore this hidden treasure of a mystery.