Best of the West: Snowstorms signal the end of summer; Nobel Prize winners announced; manufacturing giants focus on critical minerals; alligator gar caught in Kansas

The Western Governors' Association keeps you updated on the latest news in the West. Here are the top stories for the week starting Oct. 11, 2021. (Photos courtesy of Keith Pitcher and Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks) 

With snow blanketing much of the West this week (even Arizona), there’s no more denying it; summer is officially over. For many western communities, the change in weather spurs excitement for the start of another ski season, and after a record-breaking summer tourism season, expectations for this winter are sky-high.    

With over a foot of snow in Mammoth California, the ski resorts have already begun snow-making. As did Loveland Ski Area, Arapahoe Basin and Keystone Resort in Colorado, which expect to open before the end of October. Copper Mountain even announced that it will host two Olympic qualifying events this winter.

With expectations for another record-breaking season, resort towns are also adopting new policies to limit traffic and lift lines, including Utah’s Snowbird and Oregon’s Mount Bachelor, which enacted a Fast Tracks system that will allow skiers and snowboarders to avoid long lines.   

Along with the excitement for a post-pandemic ski season, the change in weather also provides new hope for replenished water resources and reduced fire danger. The early snow wasn’t enough to entirely put out the Caldor Fire, but firefighters said it helped them reach the 98% containment mark. The Trail Creek Fire which burnt just over 62,000 acres in Montana is now 83% contained thanks to the cool and wet temperatures and officials are now dismantling its fire camp at the Wisdom airport.

In Utah, where over 90% of the state experienced extreme drought, the early snow provided some much-needed moisture to the soil. “Last water year, we started the year with record dry soils,” said Laura Haskell, the drought coordinator for the Utah Division of Water Resources. Starting this year with more moisture in the soil will help during the spring and summer when snowmelt runs into rivers and streams. The snowfall in Bozeman, Montana led the city to rescinded its stage one drought declaration, citing recent rain and snowfall and better water supply conditions.  

While early snow does not necessarily indicate we’re in for a big winter, with another La Nina year forecasted, The National Weather Service is predicting a slightly warmer winter with a chance of above-normal precipitation.

NOBEL PRIZE: This week marked the annual announcement of the Nobel Prize winners, and this year four of the honored recipients are from the West. Guido Imbens of Stanford University and UC Berkeley professor David Card were awarded the Nobel prize for Economics for their research on how minimum wage, immigration and education affect the labor market. Card was so surprised by the announcement that he initially thought the call was a prank from a high school friend. David Julius of the University of California, San Francisco, and Ardem Patapoutian, from Scripps Research in La Jolla, California, won The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for independently discovering key mechanisms of how people sense heat, cold, touch and their own bodily movements. Learn more about their work and check out the other Noble Prize winners

CRITICAL MINERALS: GM and General Electric announced a partnership to develop a supply chain for rare earth materials that help make electric vehicles and renewable energy equipment The initial plan is to concentrate on making a North America and Europe-based supply chain of magnet manufacturing made from rare earth materials that are critical components used in creating electric motors for automotive and renewable power generation. The manufacturing giants will also look to create new supply chains for materials like copper and eSteel — a new alloy that incorporates recycled materials. To learn more about the issue, read the letter WGA sent to the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, advocating for Congress to develop a National Mineral Policy

HYDROGEN: In an attempt to reach its goal of reducing the cost of clean hydrogen production by 80%, the U.S. Department of Energy is investing $20 million in The Palo Verde Nuclear Generation Station in Arizona to test the capability of producing clean hydrogen energy from nuclear power. 

LIVING FOSSIL: A 4.5-foot, 39.5-pound  alligator gar was recently caught in a Kansas river. The large fish, often called a “living fossil” due to records tracing its existence back almost 100 million years, was not previously known to exist in the area. Read more to learn how it got there. 

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