Saturday, January 4, 2014

Does a bitterly cold winter do any good?

Whitetails here in Nolalu care little about the cold but snow depth is a factor
When it is too cold to start your car or you are thawing out frozen water pipes under the house or you are shoveling snow for the umpteenth time, it's easy to feel that winter, especially a cold one like this, isn't anything but a pain in the neck. But there really is an "up side" too.
It's easiest to build a beneficial case for snow, so let's take that part of winter first. Snow is better at replenishing the water table than rain. That's because when the snow melts, which it really will do EVENTUALLY, it slowly seeps into the soil over a long period compared to the sudden gushers that come from a summer thunderstorm. The summer rain overwhelms the ground's ability to absorb it and quickly finds creeks and rivers to carry it away. So snow is good for agriculture and trees and basically all plant life. It's also good for replenishing wells.
Snow is also a good insulator. Here in Northwestern Ontario we now have about two feet of snow on the ground. If you were to dig down through that you would most likely find the ground to be unfrozen, even though we have had a bunch of -40 C (same thing as 40 below Fahrenheit) temperatures. This is beneficial to plant life and ground organisms and all types of wildlife who burrow down in the snow to stay warm. The last couple of nights we have seen a couple of ruffed grouse plummet out of the birch trees near our house right into the snow in the yard. They scrunch through it a foot or so and spend the night there. The temperature in their little igloos is probably right around the freezing mark, which is far warmer than above the snow line. Also, there is no wind chill.
The truth is, except when it comes to using automobiles, snow is quite a beautiful thing. It brightens up this dark time of year. If there is any moon at all you can see quite well by it during the winter nights. And of course snow offers sporting opportunities such as snowshoeing, cross-country and downhill skiing and snowmobiling that just don't exist in warmer climes.
So snow is fairly easy to accept. Just look at all of it portrayed on Christmas cards.
Not so with bitter cold. Did you ever get a Christmas card showing someone throwing a potful of boiling water into the air and it turning to snow before it hit the ground? No, even though this is exactly what happens at -40.
Here is one good thing the cold does: it freezes the surface of water bodies, even the Great Lakes, and prevents them from evaporating. Winter evaporation is the main reason many of the Great Lakes have been so low in recent years.
It also can kill bugs, not the native ones who learned eons ago how to adapt, but new invasive species. An example is the Mountain Pine Beetle which has been spreading relentlessly eastward from the West Coast. Foresters have said the reason the beetle is going beyond its normal home range is that the winters in the Rocky Mountains have been so mild. Well, that's not the case this year and hopefully there are a lot of beetle-cicles out there.
The cold is also good for keeping people indoors. I'm serious. If you have a favorite park or other green space that you like to frequent but which is always plugged up with other humans, you've got the place to yourself during a cold winter.
So, thank goodness for snow and cold!
Now I'm off to snow blow the driveway again, if I can only get the snowblower to start!

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1 comment:

Troy B said...

Dan, as always enjoyed your post on finding the positive of bitter cold. Jane and I will try to remember that while at Lambeau supporting the Packers at subzero temps and wind!