Warmer and Wetter

My new year began with snow. Thirty-three inches of it, the biggest snowstorm in 120 years of recorded weather history in Burlington. It began Saturday morning and didn’t stop until Monday morning. I shoveled and napped, shoveled and napped. We were supposed to attend a holiday party Saturday night; instead we gathered at the neighbors across the street.

Adrienne and I have lived in Vermont for 12 years, or for one-tenth of the recorded history of weather. The newspaper published a list of the 20 largest snowstorms in Burlington history. It’s reasonable to assume we have witnessed 10 percent of those storms, but that assumption would be incorrect. According to the National Weather Service, I have witnessed 65 percent – or seven – of Burlington’s 20 worst snowstorms.

What gives? Global warming. It’s counterintuitive to think of snowstorms and global warming in the same sentence, but the long-term forecast for this part of the world is warmer and wetter.

In Vermont’s traditional weather pattern (and by “traditional,” I mean the way things used to be), the six weeks from New Year’s Eve until St. Valentine’s Day were the window for sub-zero temperatures. “As the days lengthen, the cold strengthens,” was the post-solstice proverb, according to David Ludlum in The Vermont Weather Book, published in 1985. (I keep a copy on my bookshelf, for sentimental reasons.)

When we first moved here, I remember the temperature plummeting between Christmas and New Years and no one wanting to stand outside and watch the midnight fireworks.

This year, all through our record storm, the thermometer hovered between 15 and 30 degrees. Mercifully, it stayed closer to 20 than 30, which meant the prodigious amounts of snow I was manually shifting were light powder instead of heavy cake.

None of which is to say that it can’t be 20 or 30 in Vermont in January or that it still won’t be below zero for some or all of the next five weeks (or even beyond). No single storm or season should convince us of anything, but snow rarely falls in sub-zero weather. For one thing, the lack of clouds contributes to the piercing cold.

When I opened the paper to see that I’ve been here for 65 percent of Burlington’s worst winter storms, it doesn’t prove anything, but it does seem to be an indication that things are changing and quickly.

I did a quick search of these commentaries (because I can’t remember what I write from month to month). The last time I used the term “warmer and wetter” was in July of last year. Spring and early summer had been all but washed out. It stayed that way through the end of July. August was the only bit of summer we got last year. “Global warming – hogwash!” some of my neighbors scoffed, just as they did last week, up to their hips in snow.

You’re free to believe or not believe, act or remain inert, as you see fit. I once heard a woman say to a Buddhist, “I don’t believe in reincarnation.” He answered, “Reincarnation either exists or it doesn’t, what you and I believe has nothing to do with it.”

Same goes for global warming, with an important exception. Unlike reincarnation (which may or may not exist), if global warming exists (and I believe it does), it is we who have brought it into existence and it is we who will determine its severity. Some scientists doubt the existence of global warming. Some scientists doubt the existence of evolution. The proportion of doubting scientists in each case in is infinitesimally small.

For now, I will enjoy the snow and the winter. I am a child of the north and having spent a decade of my life away, I have an appreciation of it, especially the profound silence of the two-day blizzard. I promise myself to wear winter like a cloak and savor it as it passes away.

© Mark Floegel, 2010

One Comment

  1. margaret lyons
    Posted 1/11/2010 at 11:40 am | Permalink

    After receiving your note back I decided to check out what you have written lately. Ironically your 01-0-710 column is about weather which I had brought up in the quick email to you and your mom.
    I have “signed up” to receive your column via email. I probably will not always agree with you but I am sure you are OK with that. Carolyn, my almost 21 year old, does not like that I listen to Bob Lonsberry on the radio here. I don’t always agree with him either.

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