The Summer of Monsoon Rains

The following Fun Fact was originally published August 16, 2004.

This summer of 2004 might be called the summer of rain for Rocky. Nearly five inches of rain fell in July, about twice the norm. Fire management experts, who keep a close eye on all aspects of the weather, recorded a mean precipitation for the period April 1 to July 18 of 10.29 inches, a record for the past 15 years.

For the past few years the park, like most of the west has been suffering under drought conditions; hiking across a meadow in late June, July, or August was like walking on frost, hearing the grasses crunching beneath the soles of boots.

While heavy or enduring rains are not without their hazards, the replenishment of water to the soil and plants has done much good. This year the flowering plants are showing off their beauty in rare form. One botanist remarked that in his years working in the park since 1950 he had never seen the vegetation so lush.

This is a good year to see flowers blooming in all areas of the park. In the lower montane zone many wildflowers have reached densities and heights not often seen. The heavy shade cast by spruce and fir in the dense sub-alpine forests prevent growth of massive amounts of flowers. But in the open meadows, the masses of blooms have been exceptional this year with some species exceeding the numbers seen in any previous year in the memories of any park staff.

Perhaps the tundra is the most spectacular. A ranger at the Alpine Visitor Center reported that "the flowers are awesome this year." She proposed an interesting hypothesis for the alpine splendor: since alpine flowers form their buds the year before the flowers bloom, the ranger suggested that the heavy snow of spring 2003 coupled with the rains of this summer of 2004 to produce an extraordinary blooming season. Whole slopes of tundra are colored with moss campion, alpine phlox, alpine nailwort, sky pilot, and the showy alpine sunflower.

Last updated: March 31, 2012

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