The winter that wasn’t

If you were to stand in one spot long enough, everything would change — and not just hairstyles.

And not just on a geological timescale, either. You wouldn’t have to wait for plate tectonics to do their work to see some radical shifts.

A good example would be this winter. If you live in our neck of the woods, you might say, “What winter? We’ve had only a few smatterings of snow instead of our usual six months of the type of frozen misery that can cause people to dash to the airport and scream, ‘Get me on the next plane that’s headed south! I don’t care where it’s going as long as it’s toward the equator!'”

This winter is one of the mildest that many can remember. And that’s too bad. If this sort of thing becomes common, more people will move to this area due to the impression that our winters cause less discomfort than fetching a pizza from the freezer. And if more people move here, it will seem less special.

We’ve endured a few Arctic blasts this winter. School was even called off a time or two, but that doesn’t mean much compared to when I was a kid. Back then, classes weren’t cancelled until the snow was so deep that it could officially be classified as a glacier.

I was fully prepared for winter. I changed the oil on my John Deere “3010” tractor and topped off its fluids. I did my best to ensure fast starts on chilly mornings by installing a new battery and starter.

After expending all that money and effort, I used the tractor just twice this winter to move snow. Moving snow twice would be one typical day during a normal winter.

It was almost enough to make me want to shake my fist at the sky and shout, “Come here and fight, you wimp!”

But that would be stupid. Not only does Mother Nature not care about what anyone thinks, a person should never provoke her. Annoy Mother Nature and she might smite you with two feet of partly cloudy on the day that you had planned to hop on a southbound plane.

Despite what the calendar might say and the fact that many of us are done with winter, I’m willing to bet that winter isn’t done with us. We can get some brutal blizzards in March and severe snowstorms in April. I hate to admit this, but I once witnessed a substantial snowfall in the first week of May. The corn that my neighbor had planted the day before the snowfall must have thought, “What the heck is going on up there?”

The driest and warmest winter I experienced was the snowless winter of 1975 – 1976. One of the most memorable events from that season was seeing a striped gopher out and about in mid-February. At that time of year those little varmints are usually hunkered in their burrows beneath the deep drifts of snow. This is a strategy that many of us are tempted to emulate during a long, snowy winter.

Not to be an alarmist, but 1976 became known as the Dry-Centennial due to its extremely droughty conditions. Climate records show that we received less precipitation that year than during any of the years of the Dirty Thirties. Our corn was knee high twice in the summer of ’76, once when it was trying to grow and again when it shriveled like a discarded orange peel on an asphalt highway during a scorching July afternoon.

None of that should be taken as a prediction regarding the upcoming growing season. As they say, past performance is not an indicator of future results. Mother Nature might flip some invisible switch, and we could soon begin to wonder if it’s ever going to stop raining or if we should start building an ark.

Thanks to my smartphone, I’m able to view photographic evidence of last winter’s cold indifference to our fervent wishes for milder weather. After one particularly nasty snowstorm, our car and our pickup were hemmed in by belly-deep drifts. My venerable old John Deere “A” tractor was nearly buried by a snowbank. The snow piles on our farmstead were as tall as the Great Pyramid. They were large enough to be seen from low earth orbit.

Maybe Mother Nature isn’t as capricious as she seems. Maybe she thinks that we deserve an easy winter after suffering through the brutal one we endured last year.

Or maybe things simply tend to average out over time. A person could probably figure that out if he stood in one spot long enough.

— Jerry’s book, Dear County Agent Guy, is available at http://Workman.com and in bookstores nationwide.


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