Saturday, April 4, 2015

Broken record

Reporting on the local climate makes one sound like a broken record. Same phrase over and over: “It’s different every year.”

But I have to keep saying that, because it’s true.

This winter was different from each preceding winter, and spring is coming in with its own flavor, too.

The winter of 2014–15 was a whopper for many areas, and broke numerous records. Here it was just a normal Vermont winter, with the old-timers saying it was more like the ones back when than recent years. The only record we came close to was Coldest February (ranked #3 according to those who keep track).

Yes, there have been snowier winters, colder ones, longer ones, icier ones, drier ones. What stood out this year was the mix and match (as reported in my February entry, “A big winter”). In contrast, it’s ending benignly, easing into spring with a gentle thaw. While the weather improvement on a daily basis is frustratingly slow, it allows the snow to melt gradually so that flooding is either absent or mild, and dirt roads are slimy instead of axle-deep mires, and ice-out is a rising rush instead of a torrent that causes ice dams.

People keep saying, “When is spring going to get here?” By my observations, it’s already arrived. Spring isn’t so much when the grass turns green and flowers bloom, but when the environment changes from hard to soft, and the birds start returning and hibernating critters emerge. The migratory birds are right on time, starting with the song sparrows, red-winged blackbirds, and robins. Coons, skunks, and squirrels are out foraging, and no doubt the bears will make an appearance shortly. So will the daffodils and crocuses.

I’ve noticed from my informal recordkeeping that the songbirds and bulbs appear reliably within a two-week window. This year they’re on the late side because the snowpack has been slow to shrink. As soon as that noticeably began, however, in came the migrants, and now the morning is filled with twittering and singing instead of frigid silence. In our first 48 hours above freezing, we lost almost half the snow cover and gained multiple species.

So even though every year is different, the season cycle is comfortingly the same. Global climate change is showing trends that we’ve noticed over thirty years, but as long as the planet remains driven by sunlight and tilted at the same angle, we can count on what goes around coming around again.