There’s an old Wisconsin saying: “If you don’t like the weather, wait ten minutes—it will change.” While we chuckle, it’s with uneasiness, as we also know that’s factual. I suspect residents of other states and countries are nodding their heads in experienced agreement. That quote’s never been truer than over the past decade as global climate change has become increasingly more evident. When politicians deny the science and refuse to believe it’s happening, I want to shout at them: “Don’t you ever go outside and look around?!”
Last year at this time, southwest Wisconsin and surrounding areas were basking in unprecedented warmth, breaking records with temperatures ranging from 68F to 82F degrees during a time when 43-44F is average. Day after day, we were astonished and confused, as were the plants, animals and birds. The words, “freaked out” summed it up. Something happened last March. On the second day, we got five inches of snow with below freezing temperatures. Then suddenly, a switch flipped, and by the eleventh, it was 69F, ushering in bizarre swings in the weather that haven’t stopped. April was colder than March, then May turned hotter than normal and summer sizzled with record-shattering heat and no moisture. We had the driest June ever recorded with only a quarter-inch of rain. Between scorching temperatures and lack of precipitation, we were experiencing a severe drought by mid-summer and went into winter with little improvement.
We traditionally get our first measurable snow in late October. But other than a few dustings that melted on contact during November, we had no snow, and temperatures hovered above average in the low 50s for most the month. On December 3, 2012, we set an all-time, record-high temperature for the month of December with 65F degrees on a foggy, misty day. Our first real snowfall of the season arrived on December 9 when the temperature hovered around 32F. It snowed from 5 a.m. to 3 p.m., dropping four inches, which then compacted into three inches of a heavy, concrete-like mess when it finished as mist. On December 20, we had an all-day blizzard, so by the dawn of Winter Solstice the next day, the landscape was covered with 20 inches of snow.
Our winter featured multiple big snowfalls in-between small doses, alternating with melting temperatures and rain. Every time we started to see hints of bare ground, the pattern would repeat, whipping up drifts and rebuilding plow-mounds. Average snowfall for our area is approximately 51 inches for the entire season, which often sneaks into April. As of March 19, 2013, the last astronomical day of winter, I’ve tallied 71.75 inches of snow, plus five inches of rain since Dec. 1, 2012. I’m grateful all that rain wasn’t snow, as it could have equated to as much as another 50 inches of flakes! I have no wish to ever replay our winter of 2007-8 when we shoveled a whopping 108 inches. Still, we’re already running more than 20 inches over our seasonal average, and we’re not done yet. There are forecast models predicting a possible snowstorm this coming weekend and rumors of yet another big one further out. It feels like we’re stuck in a Groundhog-Day-movie-loop, repeating the same week over and over. And speaking of shadow-dancing rodents, back on February 2, all the local ones predicted an early spring. The moral of that story is: never trust a rodent.
Newscasters talk about how great it is that we’ve gotten all that snow and rain this winter to help bring us out of the drought. However, it’s a mixed blessing at best. With the ground still frozen solid, most of the snow-melt and rain runs off into lakes, rivers and basements. Meanwhile, farm fields and lawns are covered with a heavy snow pack atop suffocating glaciers of ice.
The Vernal Equinox arrived today at 6:02 a.m. CDT, heralding the first official day of spring in the Northern Hemisphere. No one in Southwest Wisconsin (or the rest of the state) could be faulted for thinking they’d time-warped back to January instead. Overnight temperatures dropped to single digits with below zero wind-chills, and the forecast high is for a mere 19F degrees—that’s 24 degrees below our average high and six degrees below our average low thermometer readings! The extended forecast for the next ten days is for continued, below average temperatures, stuck in the 30′s at most.
Alexander Pope wrote, “Hope springs eternal…” Here’s hoping Spring honors her eternal contract, as we’re weary of Old Man Winter’s cold winds and snow and ready for renewal. And so, I’ll finish with a poem that’s a reflection of our feelings:
Snow and rain alternate
With Ol’ Sol’s welcoming rays,
As he advances northward
To bring us longer days.
Birds rehearsing songs now,
Practice their musical parts,
To coax the change of season,
And warmth back to our hearts.
Between the gusting winds
Blowing away Winter’s freeze,
Ever so gently arrives,
Life…dancing on the breeze.
The landscape is nurtured
By the Sun’s light from above,
Signaling bulbs, shrubs and seeds
To blossom forth with Love.
Trees that stood in quiet,
Awaiting the call to leaf,
Stir their sap to feed their buds–
Their green restores belief.
Billions of times this act
Mother Nature has performed.
And once again, she comes through:
The countryside’s transformed.
Through each year of our lives,
Spring has arrived without fail,
Why does it feel like she rides
In on the back of a snail?
Happy Vernal Equinox!