Winter Finally Arrives

By the time the Pineapple Express makes it to the Rocky Mountains, it’s usually all snow

By Rob Breeding

As I write this, the “storm of the century” is barreling down on the Flathead. By the time you read this, you’ll either be nursing a backache aggravated by shoveling waist-deep snow or laughing at how the weather prognosticators got it wrong once again.

Some say the Pineapple Express will soon arrive, and that has nothing to do with James Franco or the recent court ruling allowing Montana’s medical marijuana dispensaries to reopen.

That might, however, be just the ticket for your back pain. But please consult your physician.

The Pineapple Express I’m talking about is a weather event that involves warm, moist air from the tropics funneling up toward the Pacific Northwest where it manifests itself in heavy rains on the coast — and sometimes snow, turning Seattle into the most dangerous place to drive on the planet.

By the time the Express makes it to the Rocky Mountains, it’s usually all snow.

My first real bite of the Pineapple Express was a couple decades ago in the Bitterroot. We got slammed, hard, by more than a foot of snow overnight. I’m not talking about a foot of the light fluffy snow, you know, the stuff of Christmas carols. This was a foot of the wettest, gummiest snow I’d ever seen. It was snow having an existential crisis about whether it wanted to be rain. To make matters worse, its stickiness suggested it might be equal parts Elmer’s Glue.

That heavy wet stuff clung to everything, and nearly shut down the Bitterroot for a couple days. Trees, power lines, roofs all succumbed to the onslaught. It was a drag for a lot of folks, but for a day or two at least, the reporters at the small daily in Hamilton where I worked all had plenty to write about.

For the winter sports crowd, this is cause to celebrate. Laying a good base on the runs makes the downhillers happy. Snowmobilers as well.

The cold is also building a nice layer of ice on area lakes. But a layer of snow is cause for concern. You can’t see through it, for starters, so it’s harder to judge the quality of the ice. Snow acts like an insulating blanket, allowing the warmer water below to prevent the ice from forming as thick a layer as the air temperatures would suggest.

As always, safety is key. Just because the surface beneath you is solid enough to walk on doesn’t mean you’re not out on the water. So in addition to that heavy snowsuit, wear a PFD, and carry ice spikes to pull yourself out of the drink if you do go through.

Experienced ice anglers know this, but newbies beware. Even the most experienced ice anglers I know have stories of near calamities. It’s those stories of near misses that separate the old hands from those folks we only know through memory. If you’re new to the sport, find those guys who have been prowling the ice for decades and let them show you the way.

Fortunately, this first real blast of winter coincided with a migration south I began planning last summer. I just saw on the news that another jaguar was filmed by a motion-sensitive camera set up in the oak forest of the Huachuca Mountains near Sierra Vista, Arizona. We hunt the lower slopes of the Huachucas for Mearns quail, and camp just west of there.

The cat appears to be a lone male, like those that have been recorded in the States the last few decades. Jaguars once ranged as far north as the Grand Canyon. Biologists have yet to find Holy Grail, a breeding age female, north of the border.

I love that country and love those birds, but a glimpse of one of those spotted cats, or just a roar off in the distance as I tend the fire, that’s a check off the bucket list.

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