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The Polar Vortex has brought cold weather much further south than normal, and while it isn’t the first time it has happened, it does not happen often. Even a small amount of snow and ice can wreak havoc on southern states that are ill prepared for hazardous travel conditions. In addition, cold weather in regions that typically depend on its easy winters to grow citrus and other fruits can cause millions of dollars in damage to crops and orchards. That, of course, affects prices in the north.
Scientists say that it is possible that the warming trends of the Earth have created atmospheric conditions that have pushed the Polar Vortex from its rightful place at the poles. However, while Tom agrees that the Earth is warming, and that is causing some “enhanced” precipitation and warm/cold extremes, he is not sure the change in climate is responsible for the vortex moving south.
“There is so much variability to the cycles of daily climate,” notes Tom. “There are so many different patterns, and we’ve seen one of them this winter.”
Tom points out that it isn’t even that we have had record breaking lows this winter, but rather it is the persistence of the deep cold that is the anomaly here. Our average temperatures are about six degrees below normal this month and while Tom says that is substantial, it is not one of the top five coldest winters.
But it one of the top five snowiest. This February has been the third snowiest on record, according to Tom.
“We have had winters with this amount before,” says Tom. “Winters in the 90’s gave us upwards of sixty one inches of snow. While this may be a far cry from winters in recent memory, this has happened before.” Those who enjoy winter sports that require a great deal of snow are elated. There has been many a winter when the snowmobiles stayed parked in the garage or the ski resorts had to shut down early because of melting base snow and overnight lows above freezing. This winter is definitely not the case. By this time of year, however, the winter blues have set in for most people, and spring is being anxiously awaited. Heating bills are high for long periods of time, municipalities have exhausted their salt budgets, the grey skies do little to warm the heart and most people leave their house very little –unless it is to go pick up the week’s bread and milk on the eve of the next blizzard warning.
But there are pros to the situation. There has not been this prosperous of a ski season in recent memory. The cold, brisk air is humidity free and as pure as it can get, the beautiful blue sky after a snowfall is wondrous to behold, as is the quiet, soundproof blanket that covers the landscape. The deep snow offers protection from the cold temperatures for perennials and early spring bulbs and root systems, and the long periods of below freezing temperatures can rid the area of pests such as fleas, ticks and other insects.
And it will end. Cold and snow are annual players in the four-season dance of Mother Nature.
Tom adds that for those counting the days until Spring or Summer, there is no real indication right now. that there will be a hot, cool, wet or dry summer.
“Just because we are having this kind of weather now does not mean it is going to be a miserable summer,” says Tom. “There is no real mathematical modeling to predict that far in advance.”
So, as you watch the forecasted high temperatures tumble back into the teens and twenties, just know that there is a natural purpose for this weather –and that purpose has nothing to do with morning commutes, shoveling walkways or school delays. Then, when the time comes, and you finally see the first Crocuses of Spring, you can thank the snow for protecting them.