Episode 1: Why Are People attracted to Wyoming?

Beatrice O’Toole and Keller Dehmel join forces to tell the audience about two reasons Wyoming has a high rate of tourism. In doing so, they share some of their favorite things about the state where they live. Beatrice O’Toole, a seven-year-old from Laramie, Wyoming, kicks the episode off by interviewing Jim Woodmencey, a meteorologist from Mountain Weather in Jackson Hole, about snow. Jim provides Beatrice with the run-down on why snow lasts so long in Wyoming. Keller Dehmel, a ten-year-old from Ten Sleep, Wyoming, spends the second half of this episode with Michael Poland, a Yellowstone geophysicist, discussing one of the main attractions in Wyoming: Old Faithful. By the end, Keller can tell you exactly why Old Faithful is called Old Faithful. 

Beatrice O’Toole

Beatrice is seven years old and in second grade. She loves reading, swimming, camping, and arts & crafts. She has two basset hounds and a black cat. Beatrice has been to thirteen states and is learning to speak Spanish in school. She is in Girl Scouts and earned her Daisy Summit Award this summer. Her favorite food is macaroni and cheese and her current favorite color is red.

Jim Woodmencey

After earning a B.S. in Meteorology from Montana State University in 1982, Jim moved to Jackson Hole, WY. There he spent 14 summers working as a Climbing Ranger for Grand Teton National Park and 20 winters as a helicopter ski-guide in Jackson. Jim is presently the owner and chief meteorologist at Mountain Weather and has been forecasting for mountainous locations since 1991. In addition to his weather forecasting duties, Jim shares his combined interest in the mountains, weather and snow by teaching weather and avalanche courses to the public and the military. Learn more at www.mountainweather.com

Keller Dehmel

My name is Keller. I was born on 2-26-2010 in Worland, Wyoming. My hair is brown and my eyes are brown. My very earliest memory is opening a present on Christmas when I was 4. My very favorite memory is smashing pumpkins after Halloween with the family. My favorite sport is wrestling. I have been in U.S.A wrestling since I was three. My coach’s name is Carl and he is the greatest coach ever. I have worked on his sheep ranch and he has a dog. I am very lucky because I have an awesome Mom and brother.

Keller (left) and his brother in front of Old Faithful

Mike Poland

Mike is a research geophysicist with the Cascades Volcano Observatory and the current Scientist-in-Charge of the Yellowstone Volcano Observatory. His area of specialization is volcano geodesy, which emphasizes the surface deformation and gravity fields associated with volcanic activity. This work involves the use of space-based technologies, like Interferometric Synthetic Aperture Radar (InSAR), as well as ground-based techniques, like microgravity surveys. Mike has taken part in studies on a variety of volcanic systems in the United States, including Mount St. Helens and other volcanoes of the Pacific Northwest, Kilauea and Mauna Loa volcanoes in Hawaii, and the Yellowstone caldera. His recent work has focused on using gravity change over time to understand the character of the fluids that drive volcanic unrest, and also on the potential of satellite data to improve forecasts of future changes in volcanic activity.

Transcript

NARRATOR: Welcome to Kids Ask Why where kids ask the questions. This is a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media and the Buffalo Bill Center of the West.

BEATRICE O’TOOLE: My name is Beatrice; I live in Laramie. How old are you?

KELLER DEHMEL: My name is Keller Dehmel, and I am 10 years old. How old are you?

BEATRICE: I’m 7. Today we are going to explore the topic of why people visit Wyoming. What do you want to learn about?

KELLER: I want to learn about Old Faithful. What do you want to learn about?

BEATRICE: I want to learn about snow. I want to learn about snow because I like snow and I don’t know much about it. Why do you want to learn about Old Faithful?

KELLER: I want to learn about Old Faithful because it is a mystery. There are a lot of things I don’t know about it.

BEATRICE: Sort of like mine. Have you ever been to Old Faithful?

KELLER: Yes, I have, and since I do Aikido I have done poses in front of it, in my karate outfit. What is your favorite memory of snow, Bea?

BEATRICE: When I first learned to ski, or when I first played in the snow, or one time when we were at our old house the snow was really tall that our dog had to jump through it.

BEATRICE: I am interested in snow so I am speaking with Jim Woodmency. I am interviewing Jim because he is a meteorologist. Jim is the owner and founder of Mountain Weather and he has been forecasting weather in Jackson Hole and the Teton Mountains since 1991.

BEATRICE: What is the difference between hail and snow?

JIM WOODMENCEY: It gets sent back up into the cloud, way up high to the top of the cloud almost. So it goes high enough in the atmosphere so it passes through the freezing level, in other words where it’s below freezing temperatures where it turns into like a little ice ball. Then that ice ball falls down, gets near the bottom of the cloud again and then an updraft takes it back up. So it gets another coating of water on it, gets sent back up high into the cloud where it’s really cold, gets a coating of ice on it and it keeps doing that until the hailstone grows big enough to fall out of the cloud. A snowflake is just an ice crystal and they’re in a more pure form. So, they may be moving up and down through the cloud but the entire cloud temperatures are all basically below freezing. So, it just stays as an ice crystal or a nice snowflake like we would see falling onto the ground.

BEATRICE: Can snow knock down trees?

JIM: Yes. When you see that most often is in the spring or early fall when trees have a lot of leaves on them and they’re generally weak, so you get a lot of broken branches and things like that. So, heavy, wet snow can break branches on trees, or some smaller trees, or trees that are maybe not very healthy and dying. You get enough weight from the snow on the tree limbs, it’s sticking to the tree limbs or the leaves or the branches then it can break the trees or bring the trees down. So, yes that’s true.

BEATRICE: How long does snow last in Laramie?

JIM: In Laramie? (chuckles) When it doesn’t blow away? It can stay on the ground for a long time. A lot of that depends on how dense the snow is. In other words, how much water it has in it. How heavy it is, and how cold the temperatures are. So, when you build up a foot or two of snow on the ground, that snow is very hard especially if it’s windblown or wind-drifted snow. That’s very, very, very dense snow, in other words, it’s like concrete or cement. And it can stay on the ground for a long time, and it can sustain above freezing temperatures for several days before it will melt. But again, it depends on how hard the snow is and also how deep the snow is. That will determine how long it can stay on the ground. As long as it’s below freezing temperatures it will stay there, but if the temperatures go above freezing it will start to melt.

BEATRICE: Can snow push stuff down into the ground?

JIM: What stuff? Bugs? Grass?

BEATRICE: Maybe houses?

Photo from PBS Video “Blizzard of ’49”

JIM: Well, that’s a good question. I don’t think so, but you get enough heavy snow accumulation, build up of snow up on your roof, and you can get the roof to collapse. So, structurally it depends on how well-built your house is, I suppose. You see a lot of roofs collapse in the wintertime from too much snow loading on them.

BEATRICE: Does the snow melt around Old Faithful when it erupts?

JIM: Right around where the vent is, the snow is melted most of the time. When it erupts, it depends on how much snow is there; it might melt away a little bit. But usually in the wintertime there is snow all around the Old Faithful geyser except for maybe 10 feet out, 15-feet out, right around where the geyser comes out of the ground.

BEATRICE: Thank you.

JIM: That’s it?

BEATRICE: Mmm…hmmm

JIM: Okay, that was good. Thank you for the questions.

BEATRICE: Mmm…hmmm

JIM: Do you like snow, Bea?

BEATRICE: Yeah. When I started skiing lessons I thought I didn’t learn how…I thought I didn’t know how to ski, but fortunately I knew how to ski and it just took me two lessons to move up.

JIM: Yep, you’ll get better and better every year. So, keep it up. It’s a fun sport.

BEATRICE: Thank you.

BEATRICE: Before I spoke with my expert, I thought snow and hail in Wyoming were formed the same way. After I spoke with my expert, I thought snow and hail in Wyoming were a bit different because snow falls straight down, and hail goes up and down the clouds until it gets heavy enough it falls down.

The snow in Wyoming lasts so long, because it gets cold. It’s cold because Wyoming has lots of mountains. The higher you get the colder it gets. Snow lasts longer in the mountains where not as many people live.

KELLER: I am interested in Old Faithful geyser in Yellowstone National Park, so I am speaking with Michael Poland. I am interviewing Michael because he is a geophysicist with the U.S. Geological Survey and Scientist in charge of the Yellowstone Volcano Observatory.

When was Old Faithful discovered, and by who?

MICHAEL POLAND: Well, Old Faithful has certainly been known for thousands of years by Native American tribes that worked in the area, lived in the area. But we don’t know too much about that. We don’t know their stories and legends. They just haven’t been recorded, because they didn’t have a written history. And then certainly the geyser had been seen by some of the fur trappers and mountain men of the early 1800s.  But it was really well described starting with the scientific expeditions that really kicked off around 1870 or so. And it was named by a guy named Langford, Nathaniel Langford, who visited the area in 1870 as part of a really well known expedition to sort of map out the Yellowstone region. And they were some of the first to name some of the features in that area.

Photo: Mack H. Frost

KELLER: Interesting. When did scientists start timing Old Faithful, and when do they know when it is about to go off?

MICHAEL: So the timing really started maybe about the time Langford visited Old Faithful about the time, in 1870, with this group called the Washburn Expedition. And there were a number of scientific expeditions that came right afterwards.  And they started timing it and realizing it had a fairly consistent eruption interval and back then, it was about an hour between eruptions. And now it’s actually close to an hour and a half between eruptions. So it changes over time, and in fact, we know that it changes due to some things like earthquakes, which probably changes the way the geyser plumbing system works, maybe breaks it down a little bit. And so after some strong earthquakes in the western US, we’ve seen changes in the interval between Old Faithful eruptions. 

KELLER: Hmmm.

MICHAEL: So that the timing really probably started in the mid to late 1800s, and then people have been watching it ever since. And in terms of when they know it’s going to erupt. There’s two things. One is that there is a fairly consistent interval between Old Faithful eruptions. It’s usually based on the duration of the previous eruption. So if there’s a short eruption, there’ll be a short time between the next eruption, but something like 98% of all Old Faithful eruptions right now have about an hour and a half between them. And there’s always a little bit of play and small geysering before the big eruption. So right before Old Faithful erupts  a few minutes before it’s going to have its big eruption, there’s sort of like a little bubbling. And so you can see the geyser just starts to play a little bit and then have its big eruption. So that’s sort of an indicator that Old Faithful is about to erupt.

KELLER: Okay. What is Old Faithful’s average temperature and does it rise in the summer and lower in the winter.

MICHAEL: So the temperature of Old Faithful is always the same. It’s always boiling. So what drives that geyser activity is boiling water. And it’s always, at that elevation, it’s about 93 degrees centigrade. Normally at sea level water boils at 100 degrees centigrade, but in the Old Faithful area, it’s high enough that the temperatures down a little bit, so it’s about 93 degrees centigrade, or so. And that’s the temperature of the water that comes out all the time, whether it’s winter or summer, but it can cool very quickly, right, in the winter. As soon as that water comes out of the ground, especially sometimes it’s well below zero, then the water cools very fast. In the summer it stays warmer for longer just because the temperatures are warmer, but the eruption temperature is always boiling.

KELLER: Right. Okay. Where does water that shoots out of Old Faithful come from?

MICHAEL: Well most of it is coming from snowmelt and rainfall. So the whole system there’s sort of a porous layer. The ground is like a sponge in that area.

KELLER: Hmmm. Interesting.

MICHAEL:   And so rain and snow that fall all around kind of get soaked up by the ground and then it gets erupted by the geyser. So ultimately, all of that water coming out of Old Faithful fell from the sky, either as rain or snow.

KELLER: Thank you. That was all my questions. I really appreciate you being here.

MICHAEL: Yeah, no problem. My pleasure. Geysers are spectacular things and they’re just amazing to watch. Even when you’ve seen Old Faithful erupt, you know, tons of times it’s still spectacular. And it’s fun to sit there too and see everybody react to it because everyone’s always dazzled. People start cheering when it erupts so it’s an amazing natural sight. Have you seen Old Faithful erupt?

KELLER: Yes, we have. Last year. My mom took five days off of work and we went and visited Old Faithful.

MICHAEL: Pretty spectacular, huh?

KELLER: Hmmm. Mmmm.

MICHAEL: Yeah, that’s something I never get tired of seeing.

KELLER: Also something interesting was we did karate poses in front of Old Faithful in our karate gear.

MICHAEL: Nice. There’s a lot of good opportunities to take fun pictures in front of Old Faithful. It was fun chatting with you. Good questions.

KELLER: After talking to my expert, the two words I would use to describe Old Faithful would be exciting and beautiful. I think Old Faithful is called Old Faithful because, like Michael said, Old Faithful was discovered in the 1800s that’s what makes it old. Also it is faithful because it goes off every 90 minutes. That’s what makes it faithful.

KELLER & BEA: And that’s why we asked why.

Old Faithful Geyser photos courtesy of Mack H. Frost

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