Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Phenology Post: Thaw Before the Snow

I've not done a phenology post for a while. Bing goaded me, with a lot of fun facts about snow, including the facts that (a) the North Pole is dang warm, by its own standards--hardly below zero degrees Fahrenheit--but (b) despite meteorologists' enthusiastic predictions, not even close to a heat record. Which at least puts southwestern Virginia in line with the North Pole in terms of weather. Fifty degrees Fahrenheit is pretty cozy for late December down here, but we have seen daytime highs rise above sixty.


Actually, at the time of posting, Accuweather.com shows the North Pole temperatures at the extreme end of the normal "warm" range; about twenty (not fifty) little Fahrenheit degrees above average, but previous winter daytime highs at the North Pole have even risen above zero Fahrenheit:


Virginia is basking. I walked out in a T-shirt this morning, and if I hadn't needed to insulate the laptop I wouldn't even have bothered with a knitted shawl. It was 54 degrees Fahrenheit, Gentle Readers. Yesterday I saw a mosquito, and Heather found a Brown Marmorated Stinkbug. Bing felt we needed a little virtual snow and e-mailed out a list of fun snow facts. Bing lured me to one commercial site (that is, after all, Bing's purpose in existence) but most of these links come from Wikipedia:

The biggest snowflake ever reported was measured at 15 inches across, in Montana, in 1887. Hmm...no photos! I've seen compound snowflakes big enough that I'll believe that a clump of snow 15 inches across could exist, but I wouldn't call it a flake. More of a snow pancake.


The tallest classical snowman, or snow "man," ever built was 113 feet high. The tallest modified snowman, or snow "woman," was 122 feet 1 inch high, built in Maine in 1999. Since snowmen have no actual sex their gender is determined by construction methods: snow "men" consist of three distinct lumps of snow stacked up on top of each other; snow "women" consist of a distinct "head" piece poised atop a big cone of snow--and, as anyone who's built them knows, in any given snowstorm it's always easier to build a bigger and more durable snow "woman." (Some things snow sculptors have posted as snow "women" look more like your basic snow hill plus a head piece, but Maine's tribute to Olympia Snowe adhered to the proper shape of a woman taking a long step in an A-line dress.)


If you spend much time outdoors in winter you have undoubtedly  noticed that you are a heat source. A little insulation, as it might be from a hand-knitted sweater, shawl, or jacket with matching cap, holds your body heat in a layer of air close to you. This makes it possible for humans to act out that classic north-country-tough stereotype of shaking off the layer of snow frozen onto the sweater and proclaiming, "I'm burning up! Got a cold drink?" In single-digit (Fahrenheit) weather, after a few minutes of vigorous exercise you need a scarf, gloves, even leg warmers to go with the cap and sweater; in merely freezing-cold weather, you need those less-insulated areas for ventilation. An igloo, which can be a little temporary structure made of snow alone or a house insulated with snow, works by trapping the body heat from several well-insulated humans inside a layer of ice. The outside temperatures have to be brutally cold for the igloo to work, but a well-made igloo can become as warm as a cave when people have spent a few hours inside it:


And, in keeping with the classic meteorological tradition of forecasting the "worst" possibility" in terms of what to be prepared for...some forecasts are calling for up to three inches of snow this week, although at the time of posting Accuweather had retreated to a more cautious "rain on Thursday with some chance of snow." The thaw is expected to blow away tonight.

If some people were online during the holidays (and yes, although people have a right to enjoy Christmas, there really is a long sequence of holidays, plural) I'd expect to see a pile of e-mails about "global warming" from this weekend's thaw, and about "the warmists are wrong again" whenever the thaw ends. The position of this web site is...auntly. There may be some exceptions, but for most of us there are healthier ways to warm up than participating in a 'snot-'stoo quarrel that generates more heat than light.