Wyoming's Summer from Hell

2012-07-08T10:00:00Z 2013-11-05T19:01:10Z Wyoming's Summer from HellBy the Star-Tribune staff Casper Star-Tribune Online
July 08, 2012 10:00 am  • 

Summer 2012 in Wyoming might as well just be called “The Summer from Hell.”

Just barely a week into the official start of summer and record-high temperatures were being set daily for almost every locale that had a thermometer. Meanwhile, an almost impossibly dry spring made forests and open spaces one big tinder box. If the forecasts haven’t called for triple-digit highs, they’ve called for high winds and lightning — the perfect recipe for big, fast-moving fires.

Already, more than 200,000 acres in Wyoming have burned. And, there are at least two more months of hot weather to go.

H2 Oh

Water use surged from 397 million gallons to 622 million gallons in the city of Casper compared with last year’s cool June. But June 2012 didn’t break any water-use records, said David Hill, public utilities manager for the city of Casper.

Hill doesn’t anticipate water restrictions so far, but said it depends on the weather.

“You never know what the future holds, but at this point in time, it does not look like there’s going to be any restrictions,” Hill said.

2005 still holds the June record for 675 million gallons pumped. Filling federal reservoirs took priority that year during the drought, resulting in mandatory water restrictions in February through April. But it had nothing to do with city consumption, Hill said.

Water use might increase over the summer, but Hill doesn’t foresee another significant spike this summer regardless of how hot it gets. Last August, the city pumped 736 million gallons of water.

“Our water treatment plant and water facilities can easily handle it,” Hill said.

Where’s the water?

It generally happens every year, but not until much later: Wildlife have started to move into towns looking for food, and with rodents come foxes, badgers and snakes, said Rock Springs game warden Dave Hays.

Big ungulates such as deer and antelope also move into town to eat what’s green — generally people’s roses, tulips and ornamental bushes.

The main concern, other than landscaping damage, is to watch for wildlife on the roads.

“With more wildlife moving in, there will likely be more crashes,” Hays said.

Stay alert for animals crossing the road, even in the middle of town.

Snakes may also be more visible in town, as they chase rodents.

Campers should be cautious of camping near watering holes. As conditions dry, water becomes harder for wildlife to find and camping near a spring, creek or watering hole could prevent numerous animals from drinking much needed water.

Chill out

Temperatures aren’t the only things setting records. For some retailers and service providers, hot weather means red-hot business.

“It makes you go gangbusters,” said Jim Barankiewicz at Tim Force Tin Shop.

His shop has been “extremely busy” selling about 40 percent more air conditioners this year. The business has been busy repairing and maintaining air conditioners earlier, too. Central air conditioning is a hot-selling item as it can drop the temperature more than 25 degrees.

John Saulsbury, manager at Dennis Supply Co., said the air conditioning business hasn’t spiked like this in almost a decade, and a hot spring brought an early season peak.

Cool It Refrigeration Inc., and Arrowhead, Inc., both reported a boost in air conditioner sales of at least 20 percent. Cool It owner Shawn Richardson said it picked up early and hasn’t slowed.

“We have been just buried with work,” Arrowhead owner Bud Sprenger said. Even with service techs working overtime, he’s had to turn away customers. Commercial coolers also working overtime keep his phone ringing. Even pop machines suffer extra wear earlier this year from higher temperatures and product sales.

Fan sales are up at Ace Hardware, and it’s been tough keeping evaporation coolers in stock. “Everybody’s out,” owner Tim Bailey said.

People are cooling off more in home pools if sales at Bioguard Pool & Spa Products are any indication. “Usually we have a few regulars come in, but this summer we’ve had that business at least triple for pool chemicals,” manager Alyssa McCluskey said.

Something electric in the air

Scorching temperatures have increased power use, as more people rely on air conditioning to beat the heat. Rocky Mountain Power customers in Wyoming used more electricity last month than in any of the three previous Junes, according to figures provided by the company.

“You are going to see an increase in electricity use when the temperatures get warmer, and it’s definitely been a hot summer so far,” Rocky Mountain Power spokesman Jeff Hymas said.

The company provides roughly 60 percent of the electricity used in Wyoming.

Unlike some other states in the region, Wyoming’s electricity demand typically peaks in the winter. The state generally uses less central air conditioning and more electrical heating. So even with the high temperatures, last month’s power use still ranked below the use in December.

Rocky Mountain Power made improvements to its system to make sure it was ready to handle summertime demand, Hymas said. In Casper, for example, the company replaced 1,100 feet of overhead wire with new conductor that can deliver more electricity. Workers also installed new equipment at a substation to improve the company’s ability to route power on different lines.

The work was completed in May.

“We’ve already had some really hot days in June, and our system has performed well so far,” Hymas said.

Customers can save money on their electricity bills by setting thermostats to a higher temperature, keeping blinds and windows closed during the day and using heat-producing appliances at night.

Cool in the pool

Although no definite numbers are available this early in the season, Casper city pool attendance for June could have already passed last summer’s total.

Recreation Supervisor Jim Goblirsch said, based on observations, the hot temperatures increased attendance at the pools.

“Typically, June is not our big month,” he said. “Usually June’s a little bit cooler and we have more opportunities for rain and such, but this June looks like it was a very good month from everything we can see.”

The city operates five outdoor pools with a capacity of 75,000 to 100,000 gallons of water, Goblirsch said. Mike Sedar Park Pool, Marion Kreiner Park Pool, East Casper Community Pool and Washington Park Pool opened June 4. Paradise Valley Pool opened a few days earlier.

Goblirsch said new floating toys have been added at East Casper Community Pool and Paradise Valley Pool, and the pools are hosting free events.

“The pools have all been working good,” he said. “This hot weather, we encourage people to come out. It’s a great way to beat the heat a little bit.”

Fish feel the heat

Humans aren’t the only ones who noticed warmer temperatures this year.

Wyoming’s golden trout population began spawning more than three weeks earlier than normal, responding to summer conditions in spring.

Golden trout need the water to be about 46 degrees to spawn, said Story Fish Hatchery superintendent Steve Diekema.

Water normally hits that mark around June 15 when ice begins melting off of high mountain lakes. This year, it was May 23.

“If nothing else, spawning early allows their fry to grow bigger,” Diekema said. “Out in the wild, they will hatch out and have three extra weeks to grow before winter.”

Changes in temperature don’t necessarily affect all fish, said Steve Sharon, fish culture supervisor for the Wyoming Game and Fish Department.

Spawning in other fish may depend more on day length, stream flows or barometric pressure.

Tourists still visit

So far, the rash of wildfires in Wyoming haven’t kept tourists out of the state, tourism industry officials say.

The Wyoming Office of Tourism has had a lot of inquiries about fire bans and fire restrictions.

“The good part is most people want to do right by resources,” said Diane Shober, tourism agency director. “Most of the people love where they are. They are calling to find out what they can and can’t do.”

The agency’s job, she said, is to be sure the information provided to visitors is accurate and up to date.

“We are all doing our part so that people can still have an enjoyable time,” Shober added.

Because of the wildfires in Colorado, she said, some events were forced to relocate to Wyoming. She mentioned a bike race that had been scheduled for Colorado Springs.

Wyoming could be a lightning strike away from the same situation.

“I certainly feel for our colleagues in Colorado,” she added.

Chris Brown, the director of the Wyoming Lodging and Restaurant Association, said he spoke with a half dozen hotel operators Thursday from Casper, Laramie, Jackson and Worland.

“I was happy to hear that overall so far they have not been negatively impacted,” Brown said.

And visitors are still coming to Yellowstone Park.

The park so far hasn’t been affected at all by the wildfires, Amy Bartlett, public affairs officer, said Thursday.

Fire restrictions are in place but there have been no road closures.

“We’re still sitting pretty,” Bartlett said.

Copyright 2015 Casper Star-Tribune Online. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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