Speaking of enjoying winter while it lasts (and lasts and lasts and lasts), I thought I’d showcase some of why I love the Midwest and its seasons. One word: Weather.
Storm clouds in Marinette County, WI drop “virga” – rain that never hits the ground. The large anvil-shaped clouds near the horizon indicate full-fledged storms to the west.
We all know that adage, “If you don’t like the weather in [insert location here], just wait five minutes and it will change.” I’ve lived in a lot of places, and in almost every one that same statement is repeated, as though their town, or state, or region has the craziest weather on earth. Well folks, I’m here to tell you that you are mostly wrong. For example, in the San Francisco area, this is used to refer to the daily variability of the weather… BUT the weather is exactly the same from day to day! Every morning is foggy, then it gets breezy around mid-day, the fog burns off and it is sunny and pleasant for a few hours, before getting slightly too warm, but then the shore breezes return and the chill of the evening sets in. That’s from, say, April through August. In October is is sunny and warm; in January it rains all the time. You actually have to wait months for the weather to change! It makes a lot of things really convenient – for example, camping farther up the coast, you can usually tell by mid-afternoon if you will get any fog/dew overnight, and decide what you’ll need for a tent based on that.
What makes the setting sun look like that? Weather! Also known as moisture in the atmosphere…
In Wisconsin, that is never an option. Here is Wisconsin, we start to get nervous if the weather pattern has been constant for a few days (three if the weather is bad, six or seven if it’s good). During spring and summer, it is shocking to have a whole day pass without a front coming in or a storm cell blowing through. Year-round, the weather is a constant source of concern and conversation to those whose lives are in any way related to the natural world. Will we have enough snow to fill the lakes and rivers… but not so much that our towns’ budgets are used up plowing, or too many snow days close the schools? Will spring come early or late, wet or dry, and how will this affect the planting of fields, harvesting timber, maple syrup
2013 saw warm temperatures and a wet summer, which put lots of pumpkins on the vines, despite a late spring. I covered my pumpkins for the first frost, but harvested them two weeks later before the hard freeze. Most of these eventually ripened indoors, and the results are still in my freezer this spring!
production, or early-season fishing? Will the summer be so hot or humid as to be unbearable, or pleasantly warm; will we have enough rain to feed the crops and leave the rivers paddle-able, but not so much to flood or flatten the fields? Will we have an early frost, leaving me out on a chilly night covering up plants laden with green tomatoes – or one so late that leaves obscure the woods for deer hunters?
A thunderstorm rages east of Florence, WI, which remains safe and dry.
This is, in a word, awesome. I moved back here from the West Coast in large part because they don’t have thunderstorms there. Here in the south-west part of the state, the hills are high, and the late spring weather pattern brings storms in from the West, through Iowa. If you find yourself on a tall hill, or on the central Military Ridge, you can often see four or five storm cells at once, dropping rain and lightning on towns close and far. You know the storm is over when steam begins to rise from the wooded hills, even if a little drizzle persists.
A storm moves in from west. It wound up passing just to the south as we watched the town across the river get drenched from our perch in Sauk County, WI.
You only get rainbows when it rains… Grantsburg, WI
Wisconsin also seems varied weather patterns around the state. Location of certain industries in certain regions, and the presence of several large rivers running north-to-south, means that the weather in one place has repercussions around the state. Right now, for example, northern Wisconsin still has a foot or more of snow on the ground, and some lakes have up to 30″ of ice still on. The rivers have mostly opened up, though, and are flowing well. In the southern parts of the state, all water is open as of about a week ago, but overnight frosts and snow are continuing. The Mississippi River is expected to crest above flood stage this weekend, and the Baraboo River will be flooding as well…but those northern lakes, including Lake Superior, might not be open until mid-May, based on latest predictions. This has major effects not only on homes, farms, and recreation, but on shipping traffic as well.
The Mississippi above flood stage in Wisconsin at Wyalusing State Park, June 2013
This road wash-out is a result of flooding caused by heavy rains in Grant County, WI, 2007
If you’re interested in learning more about our local weather, here are a couple of interesting links.
From the Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory, info on Lake Superior ice
From the National Weather Service, flood and storm warnings
Fire Weather Planning Forecast
Mississippi River Levels
U.S. Geological Survey Stream Gauges – click on your favorite river for a real-time update!
University of Wisconsin Extension’s Climate of Wisconsin page and their Corn Silage Moisture page
On Weather Underground you can find historical weather information, as well as information from various private and public weather stations in your area, and cool weather photos from spotters and interested citizens.
Red sky at night, sailor’s delight… an adage predicting clear weather in the morning, among the Apostle Islands in Lake Superior; Bayfield, WI
A thin ribbon of light at the horizon separates the overcast sky from a frozen Lake Superior… what you can’t feel in this photo are chilly winds upwards of 20 mph blustering off the lake.
So this spring, or endless winter, or whatever you are experiencing wherever you are – enjoy the weather! Enjoy living in a place where the weather, natural conditions, matter. Enjoy being able to understand how the weather will affect you, your neighbors, the produce you’ll eat this summer, the milk you’ll drink, the fish you’ll catch, the animals you’ll hunt.