Thursday, January 16, 2014

Weather events

Instantly frozen coffee in the -20º F polar vortex.
Photo by Hannah of StonehousePhoto

A bit of research and observation

Cold winter nights in the Northwoods are fended off by staying indoors and cranking up the heat. We’ve lived through winters before. However, last week was the coldest it’s been for a full three-day stretch since 2005.

Dubbed by the media as a "polar vortex," the cold blast that froze a large portion of the nation Sunday through Wednesday had millions focused on one very specific topic - how to stay warm.

The difference this time around was the amount of time since we last combated several days in a row where the mercury just wouldn’t rise above zero. Many of us had lapses in memory as to just what we needed to do to keep warm and still be operational during the 72-hour event.

Our neighbors to the west shut down their government offices, public schools, and other state-run operations even before the air mass from Siberia stretched out its cold fingers to clutch us all helpless in its grasp. Minnesota shut down; Wisconsin plugged on. The cold reached as far as Florida, providing a brief cooling spell over orange groves that growers say will actually improve the crop by sweetening the fruit.

In Kentucky, the Associated Press reported an escaped prisoner turned himself back into the police because it was just too cold to be running around outside. Now that’s cold...

Last week’s freeze even inspired some thinking about science. Photos and videos started to pop up online showing bubbles and eggs freezing in a matter of seconds, boiling water freezing and evaporating before it hit the ground, and windows and doors growing huge chunks of white ice typically restricted to the inside of a chest freezer.

The cold had its silver linings, though, including a good shot at killing a large number of emerald ash borer bugs and possibly affecting the regional population of the invasive gypsy moth as well. Even lakes and groundwater stand to benefit from the arctic conditions that help to prevent erosion, fortify ice layers, and preserve massing amounts of snow that will melt in the spring and return to the ground.

The people of the north trudged on through the bitterness. Record amounts of natural gas were used Jan. 6, and though I don’t suppose there is any way for us to measure the exact amount of wood burned regionally, I’d like to thank several hundred trees for saving us all.

Thursday, Jan. 9 things finally started to turn around, and astronomers had us on our toes with reports of a sun flare reaching the Earth’s atmosphere to light up the aurora borealis. I had my fingers crossed, but the clouds just wouldn’t clear off that night. Bummer.

Now though, it has warmed up and we’re basking in the seemingly tropic glow of snow and sunshine. Folks came out in droves last weekend for some time outside. I think cabin fever was really starting to get the best of everyone. I was fishing a lake that doesn’t typically see more than a couple groups of fishermen in a weekend, and I counted seven total on a very sunny Sunday afternoon. Fishing was really rather slow though, I’m sorry to report.

Warm weather gave trail blazers a chance to get out and sled. While fishing I listened to the nearly constant buzzing sound of snowmobiles shredding woodland trails all around me. As I passed resorts and pubs on forest roads and highways, I saw a large number of sleds parked outside those establishments as well as at gas stations.

The Northwoods came back to life.

I thought it was worth a look back over the last 10 days or so, at just how much the weather affects life in this part of the country. Temperature, precipitation, pressure systems, even solar flares - it all fluctuates, often from week to week, and living here sort of gets you into an ebb and flow after a while.

Winter surrounds us and penetrates us for the next couple months, and we all find ways to deal with it the best we can. Personally, I am really looking forward to all the fishing events coming up throughout the next couple months, but for some people it’s snowmobile trips, and for others it’s silent sports like cross country skiing or snowshoeing. In fact, I’d like to do more of all of that, so get in touch if you’re going out.

See you out there,
A woodsman in training.

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