PAT NEAL: A winter forecast

THE SIGNS OF the season are certain. There is fresh snow on Mount Olympus. The vine maples are red. The maples are yellow. The old guide’s woodpile is large enough to be seen from space.

The sandhill cranes are flying in crazy circles on their way south. These birds migrate up to 5,000 miles each fall from their Arctic nesting grounds to winter as far south as Mexico.

However, it is a dirty little secret in the bird watching world that these birds migrate much farther than they have to, due to their disturbing habit of spending much of their journey flying in circles. Are they lost? Or waiting for someone? We’ll probably never know. It’s just another mystery to ponder while we wonder why we don’t go south with them.

Instead, we wait here for even more signs of the impending season that should not be ignored.

The cows are getting shaggy coats. The spiders, in their uncounted millions, are taking over the world. These autumn mornings are only a few degrees shy of the first frost. Soon, we will witness the appearance of the orange-coated road-hunter and be subjected to that ancient hated ritual, the stupid turning of the clocks.

Make no mistake, winter is coming.

The Office of the Washington State Climatologist warns that there is a 97 percent chance that El Nino will persist through this December, January and February, which could bring a warmer-than-normal winter with a below-normal snowpack in the mountains.

However, this forecast is tempered with the prediction that there are equal chances of below or above normal precipitation and temperature this winter. That’s why climatologists make the big money.

They also warn that this December, January and February could be very cold this year. Duh. That would be news to nobody who lives here.

While El Nino’s impacts are uncertain, the arrival of winter is not. Winter preppers had best be getting ready now.

Wild creatures that are too ignorant or lazy to migrate get ready for winter in a variety of ways. We binge feed, hibernate and grow an extra layer of fur and blubber. It works for me.

Our pioneer forefathers spent all year getting ready for winter, laying up stores of food, forage and fuel.

Civilized man with his big brain, fat wallet and technological advances has a bigger challenge, given the energy demands for our high-tech consumer culture that can be seriously disrupted by winter storms that produce power outages.

According to experts who track our every movement, the average American spends seven hours looking at a screen each day, equally divided between a phone and computer while watching three hours of television.

While prolonged and consistent screen time can lead to depression, stress and anxiety, worse things can happen if we are denied access to these devices.

Winter weather can often leave us without electrical power for many minutes at a time. As devices die, people trapped together in the same home could be forced to have a conversation. With no devices, what is there to talk about?

Without conversation, people could be forced to read. Reading has become unfashionable.

Going without devices can affect our quality of life. We rely on the internet to shape our self-image by combining inactivity, a high-calorie diet and commercials for things we can’t afford, such as the medications we’ll need from a lifetime of spending every waking moment on the internet.

It could be a challenge to keep the devices on all winter, but at the end of the day, it’s the least we can do.


Pat Neal is a Hoh River fishing and rafting guide and “wilderness gossip columnist” whose column appears here every Wednesday.

He can be reached at 360-683-9867 or by email via