Steamboat Springs If you want to know what the winter's weather holds, check out how deep a chipmunk buries its stash of nuts. Or watch how high the skunk cabbage grows. Or, if you're like John Fetcher, who has lived in the Yampa Valley since 1949, you can talk with the beavers.
Local legends and old wives' tales abound in regional weather predictions, but Fetcher said his commune with nature gives him an idea of what to expect.
"I get my winter forecast from discussing the matter with the beavers that infest our ranch," Fetcher said. "We have lot of beavers, and if they build lots of dams, we figure it's going to be a hard winter."
So far, Fetcher's furry forecasters predict a heavy snowfall, he said, although he admitted he doesn't put much stock in the data.
The 2009 edition of The Old Farmer's Almanac predicts a colder and drier winter than normal, with less snow than average. The almanac predicts the intermountain region, including Steamboat Springs and parts of nine states, will have temperatures about average in December, but two degrees below average in January and five degrees below average in February.
The almanac's forecasts come from "a secret formula that was devised by the founder, Robert B. Thomas, in 1792. Thomas believed that weather on Earth was influenced by sunspots, which are magnetic storms on the surface of the sun."
Current forecasts by the almanac include more scientific data, but the methods of prediction still are secret.
Routt County Extension Agent Jay Whaley said skunk cabbage often is used as a predictor of snowfall in the county.
"However tall it gets, that's how tall the snow is going to be," he said.
The almanac states that nature can be used in other ways to tell the potential snowfall for the coming winter.
"We are told to observe how deeply chipmunks bury the nuts they gather in the fall as a clue to the severity of the winter to come. Deeply buried nuts mean a cold winter," the almanac editors write.
Despite the history of the folklore, Norv Larson, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service's Grand Junction office, said local legends don't make their way into weather predictions by his office.
"I don't believe I've ever looked at the Farmer's Almanac," he said. "We don't pay attention to that stuff at all."
The Weather Service instead takes measurements of worldwide weather patterns to make predictions about how they eventually will affect Steamboat.
For December to February, Larson said there is a 42 percent chance of above-normal temperatures, with a 33 percent chance it will be near normal and 25 percent chance of below-normal temperatures.
The climate prediction center of the Weather Service also predicts there will be near-average snow for the year.
Despite the discrepancies, there was one thing that all forecast methods agreed on: snow is coming.