Ten years ago snow storms in Montana rarely dropped wet snow, but now our storms are getting warmer and wetter, which is distressing on so many levels, not the least of which is the rising global temperature.
Wet snow was the norm where I used to live in Northern California. My cabin was at 3,500' on the side of a mountain in what is considered the Pacific Northwest Temperate Rainforest climate zone. The storms blew off the ocean and carried lots of moisture. A the beginning of a storm temperatures usually hovered just below freezing but by the end they reached into the upper 30s, turning the snow into a heavy, sluggish mass somewhat like drywall mud.
Since we traveled on foot by a trail system and not by roads, we were acutely aware of the nature of the snow and how it changed with even slight fluctuations in temperature, sun, or wind. After every fresh snowfall we had to break trail with our snowshoes from the car to our cabin, which lay 3/4 of a mile up the mountain. The deep, wet snows stuck to the tops of our snowshoes - remember my reference to drywall mud? - miserable!! - and every few feet we had to hit our snowshoes against a nearby tree to knock the snow off so we could keep moving!
But happily, once we tramped down a trail it hardened up so we could leave our snowshoes behind and hike up and down in our boots, a scenario which lasted until the warm spring weather. Then if we didn't wear snowshoes our hike was an aerobic post-holing fiasco, which was absolutely no fun with 50 pounds of groceries on our back!
One of my daughter, Mikaela's, and my favorite things to do was sled down the snowshoe trail when going to town. We got a long run out of it - most of the trail was downhill - I simply packed Mikaela, myself, and all our gear into the sled and off we flew!
One particular year the snows were relentless. In a single storm we got 7 feet! Our cabin was tiny - 16'x22', one level, without a loft, and close to the ground. A few days into the storm it looked like we lived in a marshmallow. The snow level had climbed halfway up the front windows, nearly covered the back ones, and the snow that slid off the metal roof reached the roofline completely covering the side windows.
We were safe and warm and had plenty of food and wood so we weren't worried. Since we homeschooled Mikaela we didn't have to get off the mountain, so we cozied up inside the cabin and played games, read books, made crafts, and baked cookies in our wood cookstove while the snows piled up around us. What became the issue was keeping the roof from caving in.
Every couple of hours I tromped outside to shovel the snow away from the eaves so the new snow could slide off the roof. At night the sound of the rafters creaking under the weight of the snow was my alarm clock, with alarm being the key word! Donning rubber boots and headlamp I climbed up onto the hard-packed snow beneath the roof and shoveled the new batch of snow away from the dripline. Luckily the pile beneath the eaves was so high it kept the snow from sliding off in one massive chunk so I never got buried. After shoveling a three-foot space between the roofline and the peak of the pile I tromped back inside and crawled into bed until the next rafter alarm woke me up. Mikaela slept peacefully throughout...
Being encased in snow was an exciting experience for a little girl who lived up a mountain. Talk about immersion! After the storm passed and the inevitable warm temperatures settled the snow, I dug a hole and set Mikaela in it so she could experience first hand just how deep it was. She was impressed but wanted out instantly.
Now I'm spoiled by Montana's mostly dry snow but am ever so grateful for the nearly two decades I lived a lifestyle that honed everything down into simple terms. I was still complicated inside myself, but my days were simple! Living off the grid, buying in bulk, growing a garden, heating with wood, paying in cash - no credit card, and driving a Honda Civic enabled three adults and one child to live on $8,000 a year in the 1980s. That's pretty impressive!