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Holladay desert tortoise predicts harsh winter

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HOLLADAY — This winter is going to be far worse than last year, according to E.T., a desert tortoise.

Tosh Kano picked up E.T. from her hibernation box Wednesday and looked into her big green eyes. She's nearly 70 years old, and Kano said the tortoise knows what's coming this winter — which officially began Friday.

Kano said he's noticed over the years that there was a direct correlation between E.T.'s eating behavior and the winter conditions.

If she starts to eat in April and quits at the end of September to get ready for her six-month hibernation, then it's going to be a normal winter, Kano said.

If she stops eating by the end of August, there will be no snow or very little snow, he said.

This year, she kept eating and eating through mid-October.

"She kept eating kale, mustard greens, parsley, so I knew something was different," Kano said.

Those are super foods, he said, and E.T. was storing up fat for a longer winter.

Her eating pattern indicated that Utah will have "a real good snow accumulation" in January and February, Kano said.

It's all about the signs, he said. Acorns are bigger this year, and there are more of them. There were more 100-degree days during the summer.

Before Utah's mild winter last year, there was one 100-degree day and fewer acorns. And E.T. ate very little before her hibernation, ending in August, and only wanted bean sprouts.

Before the winter of 1993, E.T. ate and ate until the end of October. Kano was the public works director for Salt Lake County then, and based on E.T. and the other signs, he ordered extra road salt.

"Unfortunately that year, (in) November and December, we had very little snow. Into January, we didn't have snow, and people started to think I lost my mind," he said with a laugh. "But Jan. 17, it started to snow around 8 o'clock in the evening and didn't stop snowing for the next 12 to 17 days."

Other jurisdictions ran out of salt and had to borrow from Kano.

After that, fomer KSL meteorologist Mark Eubank used to call him to check on E.T.

"He used to say, 'How's E.T. doing? She's a very good predictor of what winter we'll have,'" he said.

"We are so sophisticated these days with radar and computer projections, and we don't know the signs," Kano said.

Kano took E.T. home in 1988. She was up for adoption after being displaced to make room for the Tuacahn Amphitheatre in southern Utah.

When Kano took her home, he was told she was a he.

"So when we went through the first hibernation, when we went to open the box, we were shocked because there was an egg in the box," he said.

Kano has kept a watchful eye over E.T.'s eating patterns and said she's been almost perfect with her predictions.

If the pattern holds true, Kano offers this advice: "Make sure you are well prepared for this coming winter, that you have a 72-hour kit in the trunk, and make sure you have good snow tires."

Contributing: Viviane Vo-Duc

Email: mrichards@desnews.com