There really are four seasons at high altitude. They just aren’t the same as the four seasons elsewhere!
Summer can be very short. And summer looks different. Usually flowers are in bloom – there are often an astonishingly high number of them – and daytime is sunny. Nights are still usually very chilly though, and winds can make even sunny days miserably cold. Summer can last from 1 to three months, depending on altitude and latitude. Hailstorms are not uncommon, and at the beginning and end of summer, thunderstorms and hard (but brief) rainstorms are typical. Wind is less of a constant factor in the summer, but the days in which it is calm may be brief.
Fall can also be very abrupt, with changing of the leaves lasting just a week or two. Things seem to go from green to brown almost overnight. Daytime temperatures usually drop rapidly. Fall may also last from 1 to 3 months, except that instead of it being a gradually changing season like most places, it tends to yo-yo – fair and fine weather one day, storms the next. We can be walking around in snowboots and coats one day, and up in the hills in t-shirts two days later during the fall season. The weather tends to be very unpredictable, and variable. Usually very early in the fall, the wind starts to pick up again, and most fall days have some degree of wind.
Winter is cold. Some days are cold and windy. Some days are cold and still. And some days are so bitter cold that you can damage your skin if you are out for more than a minute or two with exposed skin. And only a fool licks a flagpole! Winter comes in with yo-yoing, and goes out the same way, but in the middle, it is just plain cold. Some high altitude areas get blizzards and heavy snowstorms. Some just have powder snow and high winds. Some get hardly any snow at all, but make up for it in sheer biting briskness. There may be a LOT of sun in the winter at high altitude, and it is particularly harsh. Especially when it glares off snow, or through thin clouds. We usually associate sunshine with warmth, and it is only after you have been out in weather that is -10 degrees f. that you understand that sometimes, sunshine is also cold. There is usually far more wind in the winter, and calm days are rare.
Spring comes in like a shy girl who cannot quite make up her mind whether she really wants to be here, so she keeps darting back into hiding. Somewhere around March here, and much later elsewhere, you’ll get a brief splash of a warmer day about once a week. Warm days will again alternate with snowstorms. About April, you suddenly see a faint blush of green on the prairies, and you start noticing prairie dogs playing along the highways. It is still just spring occasionally, and winter the rest of the time though. It isn’t until June that the snowstorms stop, and we get what other people would call a real spring. At higher altitudes and higher latitudes, this whole season can last much longer, or start much later, and not let summer really in until July or even August. We get the typical late spring, early summer thunderstorms, but instead of rain, we get them with snow. It is rather odd to have thunder and lightening, while snow is falling. Wind, alternating with windstorms, are pretty typical for spring.
As I write this, it is a sunny spring day, in May. We are not out of the woods yet though, my husband commuted home this morning from his night shift through a light dusting of snow. The major difference between spring and fall snows, as compared to winter snows, is that spring and fall produces wet snow, that melts off fast. It is more dangerous, because it is less expected, and because it is harder to drive in – slicker.
No one can say we don’t have four seasons though. We do. They just aren’t the typical ‘Sunshine, Autumn Leaves, Winter Snow, Spring Flowers and Rain’ type seasons.