La Niña

Will this winter’s La Niña bring more snow and cold than normal? We’ll know by next spring.

I believe that every state, city and community lays claim to the old saw, “if you don’t like the weather, just wait an hour or two and it is bound to change.” And truly, weather seems to be a fickle master. I wouldn’t want to be a weatherman, that is for sure.

The crazy thing about weather is that the conditions that generate what we actually see on the ground begin thousands of miles away and in near-global events that while measurable, are not really predictable well in advance. This winter is no exception. We are in the beginning of a La Niña event (in Spanish, la niña means little girl) and it is likely going to generate some interesting weather throughout much of the world.

La Niña is not a single storm, but rather, a climate pattern that persists for months. The scientists at NOAA determined that the strongest part of this event began in October of this year and will run through February of 2022 and will be of medium severity.

La Niña weather patterns are nothing new. They have occurred for hundreds of years, possibly eons—24 events have occurred since 1900 including this year’s event, averaging one every 5 years. However, that statistic is a bit misleading as La Niña weather patterns may be back-to-back or spread out by as much nine years and may last up to two years. In fact, this year, we are in what meteorologists call a double dip—two La Niña events in successive years (this last happened in 2007-2008 and 2008-2009).

What makes this so cool is that the events that initiate the La Niña weather have been building in the equatorial Pacific Ocean over 3,500 miles south of Idaho for months. In normal conditions, trade winds push warm water from the western coast of South America toward Asia. As the warmer water piles up around places like Indonesia, cooler water rises from the depths off South America upwelling to fill in behind the retreating warm water and the surface temperature drops. During a La Niña event, the trade winds are stronger than normal, pushing more warm water west and allowing more cool water to rise, cooling the ocean by as much as seven degrees Fahrenheit. When the temperature dips below a certain temperature and modeling predicts it will stay there for at least six months, a La Niña event begins. The cooler water pushes the Jetstream north which alters storm tracks from their normal patterns.

The La Niña weather pattern is one extreme of a naturally occurring climate cycle. At the other extreme is El Niño, essentially the opposite of a La Niña event with warmer than normal surface temperatures. In the last 50 or so years, the system has been in the normal range about 46 percent of the time, in the La Niña phase about 21 percent and the El Niño phase about 33 percent of the time.

The impacts on the weather during a North American La Niña winter are reasonably predictable on a broad scale but climatologists insist that even then their projections are probabilities and not predictions or certainties. In addition, the potential climate changes are very broad brush. For instance, the Pacific Northwest can anticipate a wetter than normal winter, the Northern Rockies a colder than normal winter, the Southwest and the Southeast can both expect to be drier than normal, eastern Canada and New England may have a colder and wetter season and there is already an uptick in hurricanes in the Atlantic Ocean. Elsewhere in the world, La Niña may be responsible for droughts and floods in various locations.

What will the weather do in Idaho Falls or Island Park this winter? Will it be colder, warmer, drier or wetter? We’ll know by spring, but it likely won’t be “normal”.


Help Idaho Wildlife

When we traveled across the state in October 2017, most of the vehicles we saw using the wildlife management areas did not have wildlife plates. Buying wildlife plates is a great way for non-hunters and hunters alike to support wildlife-based recreation like birding.

C'mon folks, let's help Idaho's wildlife by proudly buying and displaying a wildlife license plate on each of our vehicles! 

See below for information on Idaho plates. Most states have wildlife plates so if you live outside Idaho, check with your state's wildlife department or vehicle licensing division for availability of state wildlife plates where you live. 

And tell them that you heard about it from!

Wildlife License Plates

Idaho Wildlife license plates provide essential funding that benefits the great diversity of native plants and wildlife that are not hunted, fished or trapped—over 10,000 species or 98% of Idaho’s species diversity. Game species that share the same habitats (such as elk, deer, antelope, sage-grouse, salmon, trout) also benefit from these specialty plates.

No state tax dollars are provided for wildlife diversity, conservation education and recreation programs. Neither are any revenues from the sale of hunting or fishing licenses spent on nongame species. Instead, these species depend on direct donations, federal grants, fundraising initiatives—and the Idaho Wildlife license plates.

Both my vehicles have Bluebird Plates. I prefer the bluebird because the nongame program gets 70 percent of the money from bluebird plates, but only 60 percent of the money from elk and trout plates - 10 percent of the money from elk plates supports wildlife disease monitoring and testing programs (to benefit the livestock industry) and 10 percent from cutthroat plates supports non-motorized boat access.

Incidentally, in 2014, the Idaho Legislature denied the Department of Fish and Game the ability to add new plates or even to change the name of the elk and cutthroat plates (very specific) to wildlife and fish plates, a move that would have allowed for changing images occasionally and generating more revenue. It would seem that they believe that we Idahoans don't want a well funded wildlife program.

I think it is time we let the Legislature know that Idahoan support wildlife funding and that we would like to see these generic plates come to fruition.

"WOW. What a phenomenal piece you wrote. You are amazing." Jennifer Jackson

That is embarrassing, but actually a fairly typical response to my nature essays. Since The Best of Nature is created from the very best of 16 years of these nature essays published weekly in the Idaho Falls Post Register (online readership 70,000), it is a fine read. It covers a wide variety of topics including humorous glimpses of nature, philosophy, natural history, and conservation. Readers praise the style, breadth of subject matter and my ability to communicate complex and emotional topics in a relaxed and understandable manner.

Everyone can find something to love in this book. From teenagers to octogenarians, from the coffee shop to the school room, these nature essays are widely read and enjoyed.

Some of the essays here are my personal favorites, others seemed to strike a chord with readers. Most have an important message or lesson that will resonate with you. They are written with a goal to simultaneously entertain and educate about the wonderful workings of nature. Some will make you laugh out loud and others will bring a tear to the eye and warm your heart.

Readers Write:

"You hit a home run with your article on, Big Questions in Nature. It should be required reading for everyone who has lost touch with nature...great job!" Joe Chapman

"We enjoyed your column, Bloom Where Planted. Some of the best writing yet. The Post Register is fortunate to have your weekly columns." Lou Griffin.

To read more and to order a copy, click here or get the Kindle version 


Copies are also available at:

Post Register

Island Park Builders Supply (upstairs)

Barnes and Noble in Idaho Falls

Harriman State Park, Island Park

Museum of Idaho

Valley Books, Jackson Wyoming

Avocet Corner Bookstore, Bear River National Wildlife Refuge, Brigham City, Utah

Craters of the Moon National Monument Bookstore, Arco, Idaho

TAX DAY is coming! Here is a chance to do something good with a bit of your tax return and make the day less painful.

Donate part of your tax return to support wildlife in Idaho!

On the second page of the Idaho Individual Tax form 40 you have the opportunity to donate to the “Nongame Wildlife Conservation Fund”.

Check-off this box on your next return or ask your tax preparer to mark the Nongame check-off on your behalf. You can donate any amount you wish, it all helps to support the wildlife you love.

If you are not from Idaho, check with your own state wildlife agency about how you can help. Many states have a similar program.