Utah Snow Survey supervisor retires after 3 decades

Sunday , January 07, 2018 - 5:00 AM

LEIA LARSEN, Standard-Examiner Staff

If ever you needed a colorful quote to describe snow, Randy Julander came through.

Reporters and water managers looked forward to his monthly snowpack reports chock-full of one-liners and useful data about the state’s water supply. Julander was never one to shy away from a twist of phrase or a sports analogy when talking about precipitation and climate. But after 27 years working as the federal government’s top snow expert in Utah — supervisor for the U.S. Natural Resource Conservation Service’s Utah Snow Survey — Julander’s turning over his shovel.

He issued his last water supply and climate reports Wednesday afternoon amid dismal conditions, but Julander still found room to include some humor. 

“Read it and weep,” he joked in an email.

The Standard-Examiner caught Julander minutes before he clocked out for the last time. The conversation about his career has been lightly edited for content and clarity. We also assembled a list of our favorite Julander one-liners.

Standard-Examiner: How has the Utah Snow Survey changed in your time working there?

Julander: I’ve been with the Utah Snow Survey over 27 years, as supervisor — the top dog. When I first started out here, our number of data points or observation sites back then were in the tens of thousands. Now we are collecting over 25 million individual climate observations every year. We’ve grown the observation network by almost double and we’ve automated everything we can possibly automate. We went from daily data collection to hourly observations. We’ve added snow depth, soil moistures and soil temperatures to that suite of data collection. We have vastly increased our understanding of snowmelt hydrology, how watersheds respond and the accuracy of water supply forecasting. It’s been fun.

S-E: In the decades you’ve spent observing changes in Utah’s snowpack, are you concerned at all for the future?

Julander: We’re gradually losing some of our snowpack due to climate change, of course. It’s probably less than a lot of people think, it’s hard to put your finger on how much in any given point in time because our snowpack is so variable. Temperature is not the thing that melts snow, it’s sunlight — solar radiation. That said, what we’ve been seeing is a lot more warmer temperatures in the fall and our snowpack is starting later in the year and thus, we’re certainly getting a bit less. That is a concern because the vast majority of all the water we get is from snowpack.

On the other hand, what are the solutions? We’ve also been seeing that all these dry years are punctuated every five or six years with a very, very big year. That started in the early 1980s. There are probably some management things that need to be done to capitalize on that pattern. But there’s no guarantee that pattern is going to continue. It’s interesting. That and five bucks will get you a cup of coffee somewhere.

S-E: How did you become interested in the snow field?

Julander: Ha, that’s awesome. My dad was a forest ranger. It was interesting because as a little feller, he’d take me along. We’d go out on horses, he’d be doing his timber stuff, calculating the board feet of timber here and there. At the same time, he had the responsibility to do water quality things. So he’d send me from the top of the ridge to the river below to collect water samples while he did his timber cruising. I developed a love of water. Water comes from snow and snow has fascinated me all my life. I was lucky enough to have a career in which I never worked a day in my life. It was so much fun.

S-E: What was the best part of your job?

Julander: The best part of my job by far was the fieldwork. The instrumentation, getting out there, looking at the watershed, learning about how it responds, being in the field either measuring snow or taking care of the equipment was by far the funnest part. A lot of times you got to do that via helicopter, or via snowmobile, or via snowshoes or via skis. So the transportation was pretty doggone awesome as well.

You got to see things most people will never see — coyotes, bobcats, elk, deer, the watershed, the terrain, the forest. Golly, it was so much fun.

S-E: What are your retirement plans?

Julander: People keep asking me that. I’m going to take a week or so and kind of relax. I’ve got some really cute grandkids that I just love. And oddly enough, they love grandpa. So that’s going to be a lot of fun. A bit of consulting work needs to be done, I’m leaving at a time where snow survey program is very short staffed. Basically, I’m going to turn around become a volunteer and go back to work.

S-E: Is the snow survey short-staffed because of funding?

Julander: It’s not necessarily a funding issue, it’s simply the way new administrations come in and want to either expand government or contract government. 

S-E: What will you miss most about the Utah Snow Survey?

Julander: By far, I’ll miss the people most. We have such an amazing staff. The people here are smart, talented, hard-working, enthusiastic, optimistic. Each has just a wicked, keen sense of humor.

S-E: How did you find such creative things to say in your reports, month after month, year after year?

Julander: That’s something that is just innate in who I am and where I was raised and the people I associated with. There were lots of old-timers in our little community, they all had a dry sense of humor. I guess it naturally rubbed off on me. That really is just the way I talk. I write the way I speak.

S-E: Do you have any favorite one-liners that you wrote in your reports, where you sat back and said “Oh, yeah, that’s a good one”?

Julander: There are so, so many of them. I can give you my wife’s favorite. Many, many years ago, we had a fantastic year. Apparently, I said, “You can take the brick out of the toilet now.” She rubs that one in quite a bit.

The Standard-Examiner list of Randy Julander’s best quotes:

“October was really dry, like reading a dictionary.” — November 2017

“February kept the throttle pinned to the handlebar!” — March 2017

“Yes, we feel your shoveling pain, but the exuberance of a fantastic snow and streamflow year simply cannot be constrained by some minor aches and inconveniences. January was, to put it in clear and succinct scientific terms, Wowza!” — February 2017

“For every 100 slam dunks, there are always a few that end up in the bleachers.” — January 2017

“On the positive side, a hot summer can make a lot of hay if you have the water and judging by our water use, we expect a pretty productive year.” — October 2016

“Even a blind squirrel gets an acorn every once in awhile, and this has been a nice acorn.” — May 2015

“January is typically a big snow month and to come up with a goose egg really takes the wind from the sail — say like a football team is driving for the winning touchdown with seconds to go and only one yard to score with the best running back in the league and the only way to lose is to throw a pass on the one-yard line and you do and you lose – January was that kind of month.” — February 2015

“I call it PFM ... Pure Freakin’ Magic.” — November 2014

“If you want to get out of a hole, the first thing you have to do is quit diggin’ and it doesn’t appear we have put the shovel down.” — February 2014

Contact Reporter Leia Larsen at 801-625-4289 or llarsen@standard.net. Follow her on Facebook.com/leiainthefield or on Twitter @LeiaLarsen

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