Microclimates

There can be many micro-climates across a broad area like this.


Driving from Island Park to Ennis, Montana early one morning several weeks ago, I began recording the outside temperature as reported by the thermometer on my truck. This may not be the most accurate scientific instrument, but I figured that any errors would be consistent and for my purposes that was acceptable. The temperatures were as follows:  Home (Yale Creek area) +8°F, Yale-Kilgore road (about half a mile and 100 feet lower) -3°F, Elk Creek Station  -9°F, Mack’s Inn +4°F, Henrys Lake Flat varied from -10 to -3°F, turn off to Henrys Lake state park +5°F, Valley View RV Park +1°F, Junction of Highways 20 and 87 +8°F, one mile up Highway 87 +12°F, two miles up Highway 87 +4°F, fish hatchery +6°F and from the turn-off to Frome Park to the state line at Raynold’s Pass the temperature was consistently +1°F. On the Montana side the temperature steadily increased from +1 to +11°F from the pass to the junction with Highway 287 and continued to slowly warm until we hit a balmy +24°F at Ennis.

This morning it was similar as we drove to Mack’s Inn around 0830. Home was 18°F warmer than Elk Creek Station and Mack’s Inn was somewhere in between. We have noticed this same phenomenon, although sometimes even more extreme, going south. That is some incredible variation in just a few miles (it is 18 miles from our door to Valley View RV).

At first, I thought that elevation must be making all the difference. In checking a topographical map, I found that our house is about 100 feet higher than the Yale-Kilgore Road and about 150 feet higher than Elk Creek Station. We are about even with Mack’s Inn and 50 feet lower than Valley View RV. Although we are higher and common sense says that higher places are colder, this isn’t always the case because the coldest air is heavier and falls to the lowest pockets. That is why when last week it was +10 °F at home, but by the time we got to Chester north of St. Anthony, it was -6°F.

Those are some pretty wild temperature swings, but the most interesting part was how much fluctuation there was in between the points that I recorded. Often, within half a mile, the temperature could drop, rise or both as much as ten degrees and change again in the next half mile even along the flats. So, elevation wasn’t the only factor.

These variations may be reflective of microclimates, distinct climates of small-scale areas. Small-scale is a relative term. If you are an insect or a plant, a micro-climate could be measured in inches or feet, for instance the difference between the north side and the south side of a rock. Geographically, a micro-climate could be the side of a mountain or even an area consisting of hundreds or even thousands of square acres.

The unifying concept of a micro-climate is that it is consistently different than the surrounding, or overall, climate of an area and the vegetation may reflect that. We have all been taught that moss grows on the north side of a tree. While that isn’t true, it does point out that one side of the tree may dependably be a much better place for moss to grow than any other side of the tree—a consistent micro-climate.

If you wander around in the woods, you have likely noticed places that are appreciably warmer or colder than surrounding areas. Along a stream bottom or underneath a dense canopy of trees, for instance, the humidity is higher and the solar radiation lower, bringing accompanying cooler temperatures. Extensive removal of this overstory can change the micro-climate and allow different species of plants to thrive.

Thousands of different micro-climates may combine to define the climate of an area. This larger climate may be different than many of the micro-climates that make it up, just as our bodies little resemble the cells that comprise us. More on microclimates next time.


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. 

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. Go figure. 


"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 

here

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