“Climate is what you expect, weather is what you get.” If you prefer well-defined seasons, strike Arizona off your list. If cold and snow really bother you, Minnesota and Alaska probably aren’t the best choices for you. Within those two extremes you can surely find what you want. Climate is important in terms of growing seasons, precipitation, vegetation, living conditions, wildlife and insect populations. A long growing season means higher water needs. Choose a prairie homestead and you won’t be able to cut and mill trees to build a house or barn. Climate also affects your ability to grow food for yourself or any animals you want to raise. Don’t depend on feeding hay that must be shipped in from hundreds or thousands of miles away. Generally speaking, a temperate climate will give you the most options.

Climate Change

But what about climate change? Not having a top-notch crystal ball or the skills of a seer, I suggest you talk to people in the area you are considering. Ask what they are experiencing in terms of day-to-day weather. Compare historical weather records with current activity and talk to old-timers when possible. I only have about 16 years of weather records specific to the ranch, but I can get data for this general area for about 80 years. And I have lived in this county for 64 years off and on, so I have memories of earlier weather patterns. Mind you, that length of time is miniscule in the grand scheme of things. Major weather changes like the ice ages cover thousands to millions of years. But your interest is a few human lifetimes, for you and/or your kids and grandkids to live on and work your homestead. You can get pretty decent trends for that period of time.

Climate: Wet or Dry?

You can also take the general rule of thumb I mentioned in an earlier post. Wet areas are likely to get wetter and dry areas drier. The other clear trend I’m seeing is that precipitation tends to be more concentrated. Once we got a week of steady, gentle rain with a rainfall total of 2-3 inches. Now we get that same total as heavy rainfall in a 24-hour period. The dry periods in between may be a month or longer even though it’s the rainy season. In contrast, the one truly wet year we had several years ago totaled up to be two years’ worth of precipitation. That year we had rain even in the summer, which almost never happens. Snowfalls are often similar. This most recent storm left many of my coworkers battling 5-foot drifts dumped on them in about 36 hours.

Pick Your Spot

Another possibility is to choose an area that traditionally was a little drier or wetter than the larger region. By “region” I mean the size of a big state like many of the Western states). In our case, average rainfall in the valley is about two-thirds of our norm on the ranch. Living where we do helps stack the precipitation dice in our favor. Be aware, however, of two things. First, you’re looking at average trends over a period of decades. Each year may be quite different from the preceding year or previous decades. Plan for the extremes so whether it’s wet or dry, you can manage.

Second, even relatively minor climate changes affect the vegetation, bird and insect populations, all of which are getting badly hammered. You may need to learn how to hand-pollinate plants or raise pollinator insects (in addition to honey bees). I do recommend you keep a few beehives and let them swarm to build up the local bee population. Insect-eating birds are getting scarce in many areas. Traps may be necessary to maintain some balance of bothersome insects such as mosquitoes, flies and wasps or hornets. If you see a lot of dead or dying trees on your proposed homestead, consider what to plant so you have sources of firewood and timber.

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