Climate

The Idea

Wyoming glaciated mountains.

It’s high, dry, windy, freezing cold and burning hot. Dought, blizzards and flash floods are common. It’s the wild west and a tough place to keep bees.

The Details

Topography

Wyoming is a large state occupying about 92,000 square miles. Of that, only about 700 square miles are water.

Only about 400,000 people live in Wyoming. We live in a half dozen cities with populations around 12,000 to 50,000 people. The rest live in small towns of less than 5000 people.

Wyoming is an open and sparsely populated land. It’s common to drive for 30 to 50 miles before passing a single residence. In some areas, a person can drive double that before passing another residence or town.

Wyoming is a mountainous state. High plains or basins are situated between the mountains. The average elevation across the state is about 6700 feet above mean sea level(msl). And when the mountains are excluded, the average elevation is around 6000 msl. The highest point, Gannet Peak, is 13785 msl. The lowest point is in the northeast corner of the state at 3125 msl.

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Wyoming’s high altitude and latitude produces a unique climate. Similar sea level climates are found about 2000 miles to the north. That’s about three quarters the way up Hudson Bay, in the Northwest Territories. Or it’s about the same latitude as Anchorage, Alaska. Areas in Wyoming, with similar soil and water profiles, have the same animals and plants in common with those northernly areas.

In Wyoming, climate is everything. And topography is the most important factor affecting the climate.

Water

Water is the most valuable natural resource in Wyoming. Regardless of all those beautiful mountain photos showing clear lakes, roaring rivers and tumbling water falls, Wyoming is mostly semi-arid to arid. And much of that rushing mountain water is quickly consumed by the dry and thirsty land in the basins.

wcli30Precipitation amounts vary widely, from 90 inches in the mountains, to less than 6 inches in the basins. Rapid transitions occur as the mountains acting as cloud catchers sweep the sky clear of precipitation. Most basins are left in the rain shadows of the mountains. And, as most basins are surrounded by mountains, the direction that storms enter Wyoming has little effect on the amount of precipitation seen in the basins. At my house, I get about 15 inches of moisture a year. Five miles south of me, the average is about 32 inches per year. And five miles north of me, the average is about 8 inches per year.

Wyoming’s precipitation mostly occurs as winter and spring snow. It’s locked up in the mountains and slowly released as runoff, when the snow melts later during May through July.

Temperature

Cold

It gets cold in Wyoming. All areas see -25 to -30 degrees F. The higher elevations see temperatures as low as -65 degrees F. The glaciers, in the northwester quarter of the state, are the last remanent of the little ice age. The basins aren’t free from extreme cold, as inversions form when cold mountain air settles down and is trapped there.

Heat

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And it gets hot in Wyoming. In the lower basins, a few areas see temperatures of 115 degrees F. Most basins see temps to 105 degrees F. But much of the state experiences maximum temperatures below that.

These high temperatures are moderated by an equally high diurnal shift which is common at higher altitudes. In the summer, that shift approaches 50 degrees. So, where I live, blankets are used year round, even when the day time temperatures approach 100 degrees.

A hot day, in the mountains, is 80 degrees F. And with the diurnal temperature shift, water commonly freezes at night, even on the hotter days.

It gets hot in Wyoming, but not for long. Most basin areas experience about a month with temperatures above 90 degrees. Almost half of Wyoming experiences less than a week with temperatures that high.

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Wind

No matter how it’s sliced, Wyoming ranks first, in the nation, for wind. The average wind speed across the state is about 13 mph. Topography amplifies the wind effects. Sudden and drastic changes, in the wind, often precede precipitous changes in the temperature and weather. Every year, a few people are lost in Wyoming’s open spaces. When, on a warm, short sleeve day, a raging blizzard is rocketed into Wyoming. And topping the mountains, catches them unprepared.

The jet stream parks itself over Wyoming in the winter. It’s common to have sustained surface winds above 40 mph, with gusts above 60 mph, for several weeks at a time. In the winter, when the wind stops, trouble brews. Temperature inversions quickly settle into the basins. And a lull often precedes the next blizzard by a day or so. As a storm approaches, a combination of cold inversion temperatures, high winds and winter storm weather produce extreme conditions.

Hang on to your hat!

Drought

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Drought is a fact of life when living in a arid land. And Wyoming is drier than ever. The west is in an extended drought, that has lasted all my life time. Wyoming has been in an extreme drought for over 5 years. This has left the land parched. The loss of vegetation and the stress on the wild animals is almost unbelievable. It has a tremendous emotional effect on me, as I ponder the changes that have occurred since my youth.

And yet, this may be as good as it’s going to get. Researchers have studied tree ring growth and plotted the various drought cycles. Droughts have been more intensive and lasted longer than this one.

Few humans could live in this area during those times. And unfortunately, it will probably be the same in the future. For, with global warming, those conditions are returning again. And our modern needs require far more resources now, than in the past.

Plant Growth

wyoming basin

Plant growth is directly linked to the climate. The mountains have a growing season that is wet, cold, windy and short. Because of the abundant moisture, the mountains have an abundance of plant life. It’s slow growing and fragile.

The basins have a growing season that is dry, hot and cold, windy and short. The lack of moisture is the most constraining factor for plant growth.

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The chart above details the number of frost free days. It’s interesting to note these aren’t consecutive days. Frost or freezing temperatures can occur anytime, especially near the mountains. Most basin areas can see about 100 frost free days. Higher areas experience less than three frost free weeks.

Climate Versus Honeybees

Wyoming is a tough place for honeybees. The mountains have the flora and the water. But it’s too cold and the season is too short to keep bees there. The basins are hotter and have longer seasons. But they are too dry and lack sufficient flora to support honeybees or beekeeping.

Wyoming’s native habitat doesn’t support bees or beekeeping. There are few feral hives there. And with a few local exceptions, no bees are kept there either. But beekeeping is possible in Wyoming. When man brings the plants, the water, together with the proper climate, he can also bring his bees.

Thanks

Thanks Jan Curtis and Kate Grimes for allowing personal use of the maps shown above. For a detailed and beautiful Wyoming climate summary, check out their climate website.

Here it is, the first week of October and I’m looking out the window. The winds are howling from the northeast and a blizzard is raging outside. It’s already snowed three times since the end of summer. But those snows were a gentle snow/rain mix, in the lowest part of the basin, where I live. In the desert environment, that moisture is greatly appreciated.

But this blizzard is different! I know it’s that time of year. And we always get them about now. But it’s a shock every year, an instant shift from late fall to winter. The howling wind moans of colder things to come.

Two days ago, the bees gathered a little pollen from rabbit brush and a few non-native species. But that’s all behind them now. The bees can rest through the winter. They were prepared for this since the last week in August. There will be a few hours, each month, when they get a little flight time and take care of their business. But not much happens with the bees, or this beekeeper, until about the fourth week in March, almost 6 months from now.

Until then, I’ll ponder last seasons experiences. And dream of the season to come. I wonder, do bees dream?

Next season will be a better season than the last one, with new horizons to find, and new mysteries to explore. With all the war, greed and political stupidity that swallows up the world, and particularly our country today, I find a peace, a stability and a continuity in my beekeeping that is hard to find anywhere else. I think a beekeeper needs to be hopeful and optimistic.

Wyoming October

It’s the middle of October, now. The temperature is in the sixties. The weather has been beautiful for a week. I’ve even taken the Virago for a spin. The next blizzard, the weatherman says, the worst this year, will be here tomorrow.

Well, that’s Wyoming!

-bW

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5 Responses

  1. melissa bsiso says:

    Hi,
    I am thinking of purchasing land in Casper Wyoming. Can I expect to be in the area harder to support bees, plants, and growth? Do you know of a website that can show me where the water is and the conditions in Casper? I want to plant lots of trees and keep large underground cisterns of melted snow to water in the hotter months. Itleast, this is the plan/theory. Do you think it is possible to do this in the area of Casper- 25 miles toward mountains to the west? I want to use solar power, wind power, and keep it as green as possible. Am I crazy or do you think it is possible to make an area green again-with trees etc.? I need the opinion of someone who lives there. thank you- melissa (After reading your post I started thinking about the possibility of all the privite land owners receiving state funded trees that grow in arid climates to plant. I mean many trees. This could possibly change the conditions and save Wyoming from becoming a desert. I don’t know if it would work, but it would be worth taking a plan to the people in charge. There is so much wasted money in Washington, surely there are grants that could support a large statewide project like that. Especially with the new save-the-planet theme in Washington. If I move there I would be willing to help with it.)

    • -bW says:

      Hi Melissa,

      Here are some links you might find interesting:

      http://www.uwyo.edu/wygisc/

      http://ims2.wrds.uwyo.edu/Website/Irrigated_Lands/viewer.htm

      http://www.hprcc.unl.edu/

      Dennis Murrellata.com/city/Casper-Wyoming.html

      And don’t forget google maps. Use the satellite button and zoom in on an area your interested in. If google has been down a road in the area, you can always drag the little orange man to a road nearby and take a virtual trip down it.

      Water is everything here. Catching snowmelt is a refined necessity, with a long practiced and sometimes violent history. Before you purchase any land, make sure you understand the differences between eastern and western water rights. In the east, upstream location rules. Out west it’s first chronological use rules.

      That means that someone 100 miles downstream or even in another state may own the water that melts from snow on your land and runs through your property. You can’t touch it, if they used it first.

      Another is sustainability. Wyoming’s lack of trees isn’t the result of man’s interference. But they just don’t grow here because of climate, soil and elevation. It’s simply not tree or bee country. But trees, like bees, can be kept with man’s attention. Left on their own, everything returns to it’s natural state.

      Wyoming is not an easy place to live. And it’s certainly not an easy place to keep bees. But there are some rewards. And you can find a place if you want to.

      I relocated to Florida and learned a few lessons in the process. One was that it’s easier to put everything in storage and then visit for a year. Than it is to cut the ties. Then move everything out. And then turnaround, move it back and start all over again.

      -bW

  2. Liz Cornett says:

    Hi Mr. Murrell! You were my 8th grade teacher. 🙂 I was looking for information on the web about beekeeping and I found your site. Small world. 🙂 I still live East of Casper off of Cole Creek. I was thinking of beginning a beehive hobby. Is it possible to have a hive out here on the prairie? I have a 40×60 garden but other than that we are surrounded by sagebrush and more sagebrush. 🙂 You can email me directly or reply on here. Thanks so much! –Liz

    • -bW says:

      Hi Liz

      That’s been some time ago! But I do remember you, even at my senior age. 🙂

      It’s just tough keeping bees anywhere near Casper, as few locations provide enough year-around nutrition. Most situations require moving the bees. That’s what I had to do.

      Your best bet would be to find a sheltered location, with maximum biodiversity, near or in an irrigated agricultural project. Bees just couldn’t survive year-round at Cole Creek.

      Although the alfalfa fields are green to our eye, from a bee’s perspective they can be just as desolate as the summer prairie. Alfalfa is sprayed and often cut at 10% bloom which doesn’t leave much for the bees. And there’s nothing else except the alfalfa for the bees to work.

      Hope all is well with you. It’s been awhile since I’ve seen you. I’ll bet you have some kids about the same age as you were in my classroom.

      -bW

  3. -bW says:

    It was 86 degrees and crystal clear yesterday. Yet, today there’s winter in the wind. And there will be snow in basins tonight. Isn’t that just like Wyoming!

    It’s the first snow of the season at the lower elevations. It won’t stick. But it ends the bee season. And it confirms what the increasing seasonal winds tell us. Winter is in the air.

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