As I write this the temperature is 13.7˚ and dropping, the wind is gusting to 22 mph, and it is snowing. Not as hard as it was an hour ago, but the storm is not over; there are about 6” on the ground, and under that a layer of ice, since the storm began as rain, then freezing rain, and then sleet.
It is March 3, “meteorological spring,” apparently. That measure does not ring entirely true to me, since it’s about March 10 or 12 when it seems to me the serious threat of travel-threatening weather is over. Astronomical spring begins on or about March 21, whatever the date of the equinox is. And I have always thought that the temperature curve lags about a month after the length of day curve, because of the residual coolness of the earth’s surface and the oceans and their effect on air temperature, as opposed to the residual warmness of earth and ocean as the days get shorter. But professional meteorologists always clump three months together: spring = March+April+May, summer = June + July +August, etc.
This winter has seemed long, dark, cold, and therefore interminable. In December and January there were several extended periods of very cold weather. The January days that were below normal (19 of 31) averaged about 10˚ low, meaning that for most of those dates the daytime high was below the average low. The abnormal cold has continued to the present; several late February days were near the all-time lows for the date, and today’s post-dawn high will be about 30˚ below the average high of 51˚, followed up by a likely record single-digit low tonight.
Perhaps the worst part of this winter’s weather is that the snow stays around. Most March snowstorms here are followed by days that quickly revert to the 40s and 50s, while we will not see an above-freezing temperature after this storm for the next three days. Right up until this snowfall began there were snow-shadows on the north side of each and every tree from two light storms of a couple of inches each that occurred over a week ago. The other day a friend expressed thankfulness for a brief “warm-up” that resulted in rain, not ice, falling. I observed that you know the weather’s been bad when you’re thankful for a cold, raw rain.
And it has been dark. Despite the current length-of-day change that is at its most rapid, most days have been dismally sunless. The Washington Post reported that the first ten days of February had an exceptionally high percent of daily cloud cover; even when the sun came out it was only a brief respite before more clouds filled in. In January five days were “fair,” 14 “partly cloudy,” and 12 “cloudy.” Combined with the cold, the darkness induces a SADness (Seasonal Affective Disorder) in the psyche of the cyclist.
The deeply frustrating thing is that on sunny days this time of year a would-be bike rider looks out the window and thinks “at last, a day on the bike!” But the air is frigid—way below 32˚—and there’s ice on the bike trail. When I have ridden, it’s been in the local neighborhood. That’s OK, but the combination of air temperature, road conditions, and precipitation has really set me back. Or rather sent me back to the indoor bike. Would a stretch of sunny days at average temperature be too much to ask?
©Arnold J. Bradford, 2014