Snow in the Crow’s Foot means good water year for Cottonwood Heights
Jun 19, 2017 11:39AM ● Published by Kelly Cannon
Snow still resides in the Crow’s Foot of Lone Peak. A good sign, according to farmers, for Cottonwood Height’s creeks and streams. (Shaun Delliskave)
Gallery: Snow in the Crow’s Foot means good water year for Cottonwood Heights [3 Images] Click any image to expand.
According to the Old Farmer’s Almanac, “If on the 8th of June it rain, it foretells a wet harvest, men sain,’” While June 8 was hot and windy this year in Cottonwood Heights, nothing really guarantees a wet harvest, or even green lawns, based on the weather of a specific day. Back in the early days of the town’s settlement, when farms and mills dotted the landscape, local residents used a more practical way to determine whether there would be enough water to supply their needs.
Local legend states that if snow is still found in the Crow’s Foot in June, then streams and canals will have adequate water supply throughout the summer. The Crow’s Foot has a commanding view of Cottonwood Heights; the feature sits below the summit of Lone Peak, facing northward, resembling two crow’s feet, with natural chutes cutting the outline between the evergreens.
The eastern foot, the most clearly visible, has four distinct “toes” (American crows really have three toes) that reach a confluence point midway across the mountain. The adjacent western foot is less distinct.
Lacking the modern meteorological resources of today, early farmers had to rely on practical observations around them. Early settlers throughout Utah used various landmarks to forecast their water supply.
According to Kevin Eubank, chief meteorologist for KSL-TV, “There are several spots in Utah that old timers would look to as an indicator of the coming season. The Crow’s Foot is one of them and so is the ‘Snow Horse’ in North Ogden and the ‘Sleeping Woman’ on Timpanogos. While there is no official record of these markers being accurate, they do correlate well with the type of weather a particular area is experiencing.”
The northern slopes of the Crow’s Foot retain snow pack longer than southern-facing slopes. Drainage from the Crow’s Foot feeds Little Cottonwood Creek at the base of Lone Peak. Randy Julander, snow survey supervisor for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, says, “When you can see the ‘Snow Horse’ (or Crow’s Foot) in late May, early June, good water year. Same for the ‘Dove’ in Morgan County. The concept is actually pretty sound. If you have snow in specific locations this late in the season it means that there was substantial snowpack and thus, substantial runoff.”
“It makes sense that the longer we have snow on the ground in an area, the better the water year will be. It also makes sense that when there are colder temperatures that keep the snow on the ground later into the season, the later the last freeze will be,” said Eubank.
Access to water was a key consideration when early Utah settlers decided to put down roots. Along the banks of Little Cottonwood Creek budded the pioneer settlements of Butlerville, Union and South Cottonwood (Murray). Ditches and canals sprouted from the creek, but in dry years, lack of water spelled disaster for early residents. To plan how to get through the hot, dry months of July and August, farmers kept an eye on what fed their water sources.
How accurate is the Crow’s Foot as a water gauge? Julander says, “I would like to think we do a bit better with actual snow measurement and statistical correlation to streamflow, but if all ya got is the Crow’s Foot, then that’s what ya go with.” On June 6, 2015, the Crow’s Foot was devoid of snow, and Little Cottonwood Creek, according to the U.S. Geologic Service, was running 90 cubic feet per second. On the same date in 2017, with snow still in the Crow’s Foot, the creek was running 300 cubic feet per second.
Eubank notes, “As with everything, there are exceptions to every rule; however, I have learned that the old timers know what they are talking about and their experience can outperform the very best computer models.”
The Crow’s Foot was included in Utah’s first congressionally legislated wilderness area, set aside in 1977.