Sunday, January 07, 2007

Record Temps for Winter

big snow at the barn in '03

Unending sources of conversation with folks (my family, maybe) not living in my area are my temperatures and, more specifically, winter temperatures and how cold can it go here. I have acclimated enough that, unless it slides below zero degrees, I am almost indifferent to the cold. Sure, sometimes it can be uncomfortable, depending on the speed and direction of the winds, but with the right clothing and boots, it is easily tolerable and many times enjoyable.

Last winter still sticks in my mind because of its relative mildness, especially when compared with our previous winters here. Our first winter, back in 2002-03, is remembered as the snowy winter. The snows started early that year, keeping the ground covered throughout November and staying that way through March. We had record snowfall on Christmas day of around three feet and followed that a week later with another two and a half feet. We didn't have a snow blower at that time and relied on a local man to plow our driveways at the house and barn. He was inexpensive enough but we only used him when snowfall or windblown snow overwhelmed my efforts to keep the areas cleared with a hand shovel. Our driveway is about 130 feet long with another 40 plus feet at the barn.

Our plower might have been inexperienced or overwhelmed with the quantity of snow that year and left some peculiar mounds of snow in awkward and very inconvenient areas (like right outside our garage door!) The entry door set into our garage is our most common way of entering and leaving the house and I had to shovel daily to keep this area passable. This wasn't always easy because the mound of snow was compressed by the plow and was virtually impervious to my shoveling, acting as a giant untouchable rock.

The same situation was also at the barn where another "brotherly" mound of snow was left right next to the doorway. Two problems with that. The barn doors slide open and one mound of snow was preventing the door from opening and, because we store our vehicles in the barn during the winter, we couldn't back the truck out. Our barn doors are set perpendicular to the road and the driveway is one continuous curve. Our truck is over 21 feet long and when backed out needs a bit more room past the plane of the doorway to successfully clear the snow. Space for clearance wasn't left so we had to hand shovel the imposing mound. It was over our heads, of very hard and compacted snow, and we re-enacted Donner Party members shoveling our way to freedom. If you think of it as a giant hard snowball you will understand what we faced. But we persevered and were finally able to free up some space.

All of this snow removal, moving, and work has colored the way I think of winter here. I fully expect every winter and each storm to be like our first ones and have adapted my snow removal to it. We got a snow blower before the next winter began and I spent, and continue to spend, an enormous amount of time keeping all areas well-groomed and cleared so our lives and activities can continue without hindrance.

Our second winter, during 2003-04, began with a Nor'easter storm in early December, dumping on us with about two and a half feet of snow. And that was pretty much it for snowfall that winter. It was cold enough to always have it around and was replenished by lake-effect snow flurries but no other storms of significance. Temperatures seemed about average, no warm melt days but also no bone-jarring cold periods.

Our third winter, 2004-05, is remembered for its cold. There was a two week period in January of constant -20 degree nights and days often under zero. Neither the dogs nor us stayed outside very long during this time. It was odd starting the truck and hearing the fuel pump until it was very well warmed up, miles later. A small flock of turkeys visited us during this cold period. We sometimes hear turkeys but don't often see them, so this was a novel experience. The turkeys spent their time with us down by the slightly more protected area of the big creek. They pecked for food through the burdock seed heads and roosting in the trees when they weren't eating. We were still locked in our cold front throughout March. It was frustrating knowing the jet stream was blocking warmer air in Pennsylvania (it was in the 60s!) from reaching us.

Last year, 2005-06, I remember as the mild winter. There wasn't much snow, with only a couple of storms laying down a foot or less of powder each time. Several warm periods in December, January, and February melted all of the snow and it looked odd to see bare ground without snow during those months. It was so warm, in fact, that in February a Great Blue Heron was wading in the little run0ff creek. It's still too weird to think about.

I have always been a more than avid weather watcher. My work at plant nurseries and commuting by bicycle for 14 years have made me highly sensitized to temperatures, storms, and day lengths. I realized in early December that this winter was milder than our previous ones. But I thought it would be just an interlude before the arctic fronts from Canada would descend on us and embrace us for months on end. It hasn't happened this year and I don't know if it will. It has been a mind-boggling and incredibly mild winter: only one night has hit seven degrees and most nights the lowest it has been is in the low twenties. The days have been equally mild with most highs in the forties and high thirties.

The weather pattern doesn't seem ready to change and I can't tell if it will. What has made this winter incredibly easy for us - I still haven't fired up the snow blower and was able to dig in the soil yesterday - is putting an enormous stress on the native animals and plants. They are well adapted to the cold and have built their life cycles on it. Most mammals hibernate at set temperatures but they are awake this year and need food, which is not in great abundance. Why should it when most of the animals are normally sleeping during this time? A vicious cycle has started and the fall-out may be less animals, and certainly less vigorous animals, this year.

Plants seem ready to come out of dormancy. When the trees and shrubs go dormant, a lot of the energy they've made is stored in their roots. When temperatures and sunlight are right, the plants replenish their selves with that energy, the "rising sap" phenomenon. Will the plants use up too much of their stored energy or are they still waiting? I can't say but I do ponder what this out-of-ordinary weather is doing to them.

I shake my head at the recent headlines in the news regarding the uncommon warmness of this winter. It's funny how the different news sources are in synchronicity with the timing of their reports. I've been aware of the unusual winter for weeks and wonder why they haven't. Maybe they are too closed off from the natural world or have been pre-occupied with the political turmoil this year.

Normal highs in early January are in the 20's with the hope of reaching 30. Yesterday the high was 60.

1 Comment:

Carolyn gail said...

Hi Craig,

Are you in the area of New York State that got that incredible 12 feet plus of snow ? Enjoyed reading your post. I know how difficult it must be to go from a zone 9-10 to a 4-5 'cause I've done it, too.

Hope Spring and good weather comes quickly for you and us.