Those in northcentral Wyoming have been noticing a surprising phenomenon in the mountains for the beginning of August: summer snow.
Recent photographs show snow visible at the summit of Fremont Peak in the Wind River Mountains and on the pinnacles of the Grand Tetons.
Many might consider the early high-country snowfall an ominous sign that Wyoming is in for a harsh winterlater this year.
A recent weather forecast circulating on social media predicts Wyoming will get more snow than average during the 2023-2024 winter season. With snow already accumulating at higher elevations, this could be viewed as proof of its accuracy.
While that may be true, it's important not to jump into any assumptions. After all, winter is still several months away, but fall is right around the corner.
Summer Snow At The Summit
Meteorologist Don Day says that seeing snow at higher elevations in August isn't unusual, even if it is a bit earlier than usual this year.
"We can go back to early August (in past years) and see pictures of snow like that," he said.
Photographer Dave Bell, who captured the snow-covered summit of Fremont Peak, said he could recall as much as 15 inches of snow on the mountain in early August.
Neither Day nor Bell is surprised to see this. The high-altitude snow is part of the same weather pattern that has given Wyoming so much moisture in 2023.
"The pattern this summer has been cooler and wetter than average. In years like this, it's natural to go into a fall pattern that's somewhat similar," Day said.
So, is this a harbinger of an intense winter weather?
A Sudden Fall Into Winter
Day says the common perception is that a hot, dry summer leads to a bitterly cold winter and vice versa. While that can happen, "drawing those parallels" is difficult for meteorologists.
When analyzing the 2023-2024 winter forecast, Day said it's too early to predict how intense the upcoming winter will be. Any forecast released this early should be approached "with extreme caution."
However, Day says it's entirely possible to predict how current weather will impact the fall. After a cooler, wetter spring and summer, it makes sense that autumn would follow the same pattern.
"Fall will arrive earlier (this year,) and we'll see more of this as we get into September and October. It doesn't mean we're heading toward bitter cold, but certainly a cooler, more active fall than we've seen recently," Day said.
While the weather is driven by several variables, seasonal weather is also driven by cosmic shifts, such as the tilt of the Earth's axis and the transition to shorter days and longer nights. There's a much more significant shift from summer to winter than summer to fall.
So, what about the winter?
"The indications of a colder, snowier winter are certainly on the table," Day said. “In that sense, it will be a continuation. But what makes things cool and wet in spring and summer doesn't necessarily make things cool and wet in the winter."
Hunters Be Warned
Archery hunting in Wyoming will commence Sept. 1, which means more Wyomingites will be in the backcountry. After several years of warm, dry falls, everyone should be prepared for any kind of weather, especially at higher elevations, Day said.
"I would put the odds higher this year that you could have impactful, high-country snow events early in the fall that we haven't seen in the last two to three years," he said.
The falls from 2020 to 2022 were especially warm and dry, much to the delight of hunters. But that was a different year of different weather.
Day says it is crucial that hunters keep spring and summer in mind before embarking on their fall excursions. Of course, this isn't news for more Wyomingites.
"Living in Wyoming, you need to be prepared for all four seasons. It goes without saying. I think that's true every year," Day said.