December 11, 2012
We had our first real snow of the season on Sunday. Five inches by most counts. A foot- and-a-half by Jackson, Noah and my estimate. You choose your source. Noah was awake as it was falling and couldn’t stop looking at it coming down. He now understands that it does come from the sky as opposed to say some big guy unfolding a sheet or tucking the ground in.
As far as I can recall, I’ve never claimed to be an expert on the water cycle. I’d say my level of knowledge of the how water turns from ocean (or Great Lake, etc.) to cloud moisture to rain (or snow) is right in the middle of the pack. Nothing exceptional but not embarrassing either. I must say, though, that snow in the desert has me a little stumped. My main source of confusion is that there isn’t a whole lot of standing water around where I live, certainly not enough to dump a 18 inches on us. (See this entry on dryness if you need a refresher on the level of moisture out here.) In fact, I don’t remember the last time I saw a puddle, let alone a duck.
So if I understand the science right, the water that condensed, cooled and fell as snow a couple days ago had to travel a long way to get here (much like the pigeons I still see around town). I know how far we are from the coast, maybe not as the crow flies (or the clouds drift) but as a family of four (two of whom are young, loud and hate cars) drives. I know also (from that same source) that except for a couple brilliant exceptions (the Colorado River and Lake Mead being the prime two) there isn’t really any water between here and there. (I’m not including the Great Salt Lake or Mono Lake, as I don’t want to consider this pristine and perfectly white snow could have originated in either of those briny bodies.)
I welcome some wisdom from all of you meteorologists out there, but until then, I’m going to enjoy picturing this mass of cold wet air making the long trip, like a migratory flock, traveling steadily and silently from the coast, either carrying so much that it can blanket the entire country between here and there, or, perhaps more interestingly, waiting patiently for this here high country and then releasing it all on us.