There comes a point towards the end of winter when it simply feels like we’ve had enough. The point when it happens may vary, depending on how much serious cold February and March have brought us, and it often occurs sometime after the spring equinox when the rapidly lengthening days are a regular reminder that most of the northern hemisphere is warming toward summer. Today is the day that I reached that point.
Southwest Alaska has had a pretty cold time of it for the first three months of 2007. Not killer cold, not 40 below for weeks on end. But consistently below zero most of the time. The entire month of March has had a daily dawn baseline of 10 below or colder, sometimes warming up during the day to zero or 10 above—reflecting the increasing strength of the sun—but plummeting right back down each night. It begins to wear a person out. Even my Yupik friends are saying “I could stand it to warm up a little.” Most of us are ready for a twenty degree bump in the baseline: 10 above, instead of 10 below. After all, isn't it spring now?
The brief exception to the March cold occurred this past weekend, which may have contributed to my tipping point. After weeks of clear skies and hard ice everywhere with no snow to speak of, on Saturday the clouds rolled in and winds blew from the south. We warmed up to +15F and it began to snow like we haven’t seen in many weeks. By Monday there were huge drifts of fresh snow everywhere; schools had to close for the day, as the school busses were not able to drive their routes. For two glorious days we were practically in T-shirts, it was so warm. And once the roads were cleared of drifts, life was easy again; it really felt like spring was more than a distant teasing promise.
But as often happens in late March, Old Man Winter wants one more bite out of us before his last wobbly tooth falls out. Yesterday morning the thermometer was back to 16 below just before sunrise. Plug in the truck again before trying to crank it. Thaw out the bathtub drain with a heat gun before taking a shower. Layer up with multiple fleece under the Jeff King suit (AND beaver hat AND neck gaiter AND bunny boots) before going out with the dogs (and God forbid you should forget to pee before putting all that on).
At least by this point in the year’s cycle, it WILL warm up during the day. In January and February, the temperature often does not vary more than a degree or two for days on end, as the sun gives us brief light but no warmth. By late March there is substantial strength in the sun’s rays, and afternoons may be 20 degrees warmer than early mornings. This variation gives us some amazing icicles on the south sides of buildings.
Temperatures well below freezing are likely to continue into April, and possibly even into May. But the sun is growing ever stronger, and our daylight increases by about five minutes each day. Old Man Winter’s grip is weakening, despite the pinch he is still able to give us in the early mornings. Spring will come. You can already feel it.
Labels: Tundra Life