Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Phenology: Southerners Think This Is Cold

This web site is frequently read by people in the Northern States, Russia, Canada, and other places that experience serious cold weather. Possibly some of you are in need of a good laugh. If so, here is what in Virginia passes for a snow and freezing weather emergency:

Yes, when I left the library, sleet was beginning to fall. I caught a ride home with someone who thought we had time to stop at a fast-food place (for coffee) as well as the supermarket. Well, I had time to do those things and get out of the car before that sleet turned to big fat fluffy snowflakes. By the time I had walked up the unpaved road to the Cat Sanctuary, that road was covered in snow and ice. I really was concerned about my friend, driving on to her house. She made it safely home though and is back at work.

The snow didn't get more than six inches deep and wasn't blowing about, but Southern roads really are dangerous when there is any kind of snow, ice, or even standing water on them, because Southerners don't get much practice driving in snow and seldom bother about tire chains. Usually one sees abandoned cars where drivers either skidded out of the road or decided to pull over and walk before they skidded, but sometimes situations do manage to become uncomfortable. Later the newspapers reported that in Tennessee two school buses were stranded in the snow, and the children "had to" stay on the buses until they could be "rescued." Those poor, bored, restless kids.

The "Comfort Zone" brand heater from Quillin's Hardware was tested this week, and it performed very well. Along with my home computer and a candle (from Mountain Treasures) it kept the "warm room" so warm that I had to peel off my slippersocks.

The earth walls and floor of the cellar maintain something close to earth temperature all year--call it earth temperature with drafts--and usually the cats prefer the cellar to the house, but by the fourth day of rain they were reporting that the cellar was too wet for comfort. Grayzel likes being indoors. The others behave pretty well indoors, but make it clear that they'd rather be outdoors...except for Iris.

There are actually two distinct things going on with Iris. She's still fighting rhinotracheitis, and cold and damp make it harder. She also has a dominant personality. For social cats, this does not mean fighting--people resist believing how friendly and hospitable Iris can be, but she has positively ordered me to feed visiting cats. Instead it means making lots of little status displays, which include unmistakable attempts to control the human. For the human who is willing to work with this behavior it means that the cat can become a real friend and working partner. If you want to live with this kind of cat, my advice is to let it train you to obey harmless gestures before it starts destroying your clothes and shoes. Iris hears and is learning words; she's also working out commands she can give me. This is making it hard to assess her physical condition. I suspect her of forcing or faking coughs because she's using a cough as a command. She stops coughing when she gets into the warm room.

Fortunately, she's also learned that the sound of typing on the computer is her cue to take a nap, so I was able to get some work done.

Meanwhile, a damp heavy snow weighed down the treetops. People were praying that trees wouldn't break down power lines...and apparently, for most people, they didn't. At the Cat Sanctuary the lights blinked out a few times but never stayed off for more than a minute or two. There was a power outage in town. Some stores had to get rid of frozen food. I hope they found people who were willing to eat it before it went bad.

Overnight lows were around 20 degrees Fahrenheit every night. On Friday the daytime high was only in the low thirties--just at the freezing point--but things that were in the sun began to thaw during the day. I had some bottles of water and soda pop on the porch. They did not freeze over Thursday night; I brought them inside around sundown on Friday.

On Saturday, Sunday, and Monday (a federal holiday) daytime highs were around 40. The ground thawed to slush every day; snow stuck on, not because the ground was cold, but because the ground was saturated with water.

While walking around in the sun, or sitting in the warm room with Iris, I've been quite comfortable in just one layer of thick cotton clothes.

Virginia has seen weather that people further north would recognize as winter, but it doesn't happen every year. One winter overnight lows stayed in the single digits, highs in the teens and twenties, for several days. One winter, about thirty years ago, for just a few hours one night the temperature dived down to twenty degrees below zero (Fahrenheit)--many dead birds and small animals were found on the road the next morning.

But this weekend at the Cat Sanctuary the resident cardinals and visiting chickadees were chasing the insects that were flying around in the daytime...and even while the thermometer was still showing twenty degrees this morning, when I carried the kitten Ivy indoors she nonverbally said, "If you want to groom me or share a special food treat with me, get on with it--I don't want to sit around in this stuffy house all day!"

Oh, the holiday is over. I can go into town and check my e-mail. Must I put on clunky boots? No, it's not cold enough that I have to put on clunky boots. A coat, or a heavy shawl? No, the sun is shining, and if I walk very far in the sun I'll "burn up," which is the local euphemism for perspire, under a coat or shawl. Can I stand at least to wear a sweater? Well...for the first mile I can stand to wear a medium-weight sweater.

Then I get into town, and everyone is still carrying on about how cold it is. I walk into a store, peel off my sweater before it's soaked, and the storekeeper is practically hugging the space heater, which has been moved right up onto the counter, and wailing, "It's not so bad further back in the store, in the fitting room, but here up front it's cold!"

More snow is expected. If prolonged power outages occur I'll be unhappy too; I have a full woodbin and a bag of candles but, now that there are no longer geriatric neighbors who need to be shovelled out, when snow keeps me off the computer I get bored. But I am not going to try to tell readers sitting in the Ukraine that this is cold. This is why numbers are so useful. Overnight lows around 20, daytime highs around 40 degrees Fahrenheit; whether you feel that as warm, cold, or normal-for-the-time-of-year is up to you. I say it's normal for the time of year.