Friday, September 16, 2011

Guest post: Tom Perkins about Dallas Reigle

While I was a forecaster at the Natural Resources Conservation Service I was trained by Tom Perkins. He was a forecaster when I met him, then he became head forecaster and is now leader of the branch. Earlier this month I wrote some stories about Dallas Reigle, the first forecaster I ever met. Tom worked with Dallas for many years and I asked if he had any other stories about him. Tom Perkins wrote:

"I met Dallas in 1984, just after I transferred to the SCS (Soil Conservation Service) Snow Survey Program from the NWRFC (Northwest River Forecast Center), where I was also a forecaster (seasonal and flood)...Dallas was then a junior forecaster, just like me. Dallas is one of those guys that, when you first meet him, becomes the brother you never had. What a great guy! And a great hydrologist. He invited me to his home on almost every one of my visits to Phoenix. He also arranged several Salt River Project helicopter flights over the Salt, Verde, and Tonto watersheds.

Most years, Dallas and I would coordinate [discuss and agree on] our forecasts and see how low we could go. Dallas would say, "This is the desert...forecast dry, Perkins!". Then there were the major floods of 1993. Dallas and I were forecasting 600% of median for the Salt and Verde rivers in January; twice that for Tonto Creek! We were pointing in the right direction, but we did not go far enough! I think the Salt ran 16,000% of median that year (Jan-May), or some other eye-popping number [Ed: The Tonto River January flow was 4,500% of normal median flow]. Cars, washing machine, refrigerators, all kinds of junk were bobbing in the Salt River as it ran into, through, and out of Phoenix. I'm sure that many of those appliances ended up in Painted Rock Reservoir, near Gila Bend (90 miles/150 km away). That was a year to remember, just like 2011 will be a year to remember for the Missouri...but, that's another story.

Dallas with a snowed-in snotel site. The brown box is an instrument shelter buried in snow.  The shelter is probably about 9 feet/3 meters tall. 
Dallas liked to smoke cigars. They were big, fat stogies, like coach Red Auerbach used to light up when the Boston Celtics basketball team were winning. The day that I took the pic at Snowslide Canyon was the last time I saw Dallas. He contracted Lou Gehrig's disease soon after and I never got back to Phoenix before he passed away. 

Red Auerbach on a winning streak (source)

We communicated via email until almost the very last. He started to lose his functions, but was able to send messages, using a special computer that he could command from his wheelchair. Dallas was both bright and witty. I remember sending him an email one day, asking him what his favorite cigars were. I told him that I would send him a box. He emailed back, telling me not to send any; the doctor told him that they were bad for his health. I laughed. I laughed a lot when I was around Dallas. I miss our conversations.

I have met many "personalities" like Dallas, during my 37+ years with the Federal government. A lot of people associated with the Snow Survey Program were born about 100 years too late. Many of them would have made great mountain men! Most of them loved being out in the mountains and the snow, and would put in many more hours than they were paid for. Randy Julander (Utah Snow Survey Supervisor) once remarked about snow survey work "...And we get paid for this?"


  1. Dallas was indeed a great guy, and a strong supporter of runoff forecasting operations throughout the West through his support and involvement with the Western Snow Conference. Dallas was full of ideas, and always ready to help make something positive happen. We all lost a lot when Dallas passed away.
    Bruce McGurk, WSC Exec Board, 14 Jan 2012

  2. Bruce,

    Thanks for the comment. I think the first time I saw him smoke a cigar was when he was hosting the Western Snow Conference in Arizona in 2003.

    The WSC proceedings also had a nice "in memoriam" for Dallas on their 75th anniversary