The Weather Gods Smiled

Written by Walt Rhodes
Thursday, June 02, 2011

Walt RhodesPulling off a successful survey hinges on many factors. The three primary ones are aircraft status, pilot-biologist/observer health, and weather. Weather is probably the most important because even if the pilot-biologist and the observer are feeling great and the airplane is running good, no one is going anywhere if the weather sucks.

While we like to complain that the weather is throwing us a curveball during surveys, if we took a moment to add it all up over time, things probably even themselves out. Sure, we always remember bad-weather runs. Think about the western Dakota/eastern Montana crew last year who constantly battled bad weather, resulting in them taking nearly twice as long as average to finish the crew area. Most good-weather runs are usually short in duration, and rarely are recalled like the days you have to sit. But, string a few good spells together and things go down in the history books.

That was the case this year for us. It normally takes 26-30 days to finish the northern Saskatchewan/northern Manitoba crew area, which is the largest of all areas no matter how you slice and dice it. This year, however, the plane ran flawlessly, the pilot-biologist and observer stayed awake, and the weather gods were kind. We only had 4 weather days, and all were perfectly spaced to meet required rest days and provide time to complete data compilation and transfers. If I had been asked to script the perfect survey before departure, this would have been it. Consequently, Mike Rabe and I were headed out of Thompson, Manitoba, at 9,000 feet with a tailwind to Fargo, North Dakota, on 1 June. We both caught commercial flights home later that day from Minneapolis, Minnesota. I never would have dreamed that I could leave northern Manitoba at daybreak in a general aviation aircraft and arrive in a commercial airliner by sunset in South Carolina. Sometimes, the weather gods are generous, and I won’t forget that the next time it’s cloudy and rainy and there is nothing but re-runs on the hotel television.

Overall, the region looked improved from 2009 and 2010. Although it was shaping up to be a late spring, the nice weather really jump-started things. All of the species were nicely paired and seemed sprinkled generously across the boreal forest. Good production is expected.

Observer Mike Rabe catches some Zs during a long ferry between survey lines.

Observer Mike Rabe catches some Zs during a long ferry between survey lines. Photo by W. Rhodes, US FWS

The cockpit of a brand-new $30-million waterbomber at The Pas, Manitoba.

The cockpit of a brand-new $30-million waterbomber at The Pas, Manitoba. Photo by Mike Rabe, AZ Game & Fish Dept.