As seems to so often be the case, weather has been a topic of great attention this winter in the Ozarks.
Obviously, we’ve experienced a bit of a reprieve of late, but memories of wintry conditions are still fresh in the minds of many an area resident. While February began in tame fashion, with a rather average day with a high in the 40s and low in the 20s, that was followed by a 10-day stretch when the temperature never rose above 34 degrees, including eight straight when the high didn’t break the freezing mark and seven when it stayed below 30 (according to data posted on the Weather Channel website, weather.com). During the run, low temperatures dipped into the single digits five times and below zero once.
In fact, this winter has been so wintry in these parts, there’s even an article in this week’s Herald written by a University of Missouri Extension meteorological expert who says that depending on how February pans out, it could go down as one of the top 10 coldest on record. Whether or not that happens, there was certainly enough cold weather to make people actually talk about it on a regular basis, myself included. In fact, I’ve told several people lately how I wish I had kept track of how many times I’ve gone outside just before sunrise this winter and seen the mercury below the zero line in the thermometer mounted to the well house at the remote high country outpost where my wife and I live, because I know full well it has happened a dozen or more times. And it’s been right at or very near zero many other times.
But as rough as we’ve had it (or think we’ve had it) for the past six or eight weeks, it’s pretty easy to find examples of how it could have been worse. A lot worse.
Take England, for example. The wettest weather since the mid-1700s has had much of the southern portion of the country virtually submerged for what now seems like ages. As the Thames River and about every other waterway in the region have gone way over their banks, “flood tourists” are even becoming a nuisance as they drive around and cause wakes to lap even higher in homes and businesses already drenched in high water.
Then there’s California, the land of the mega-taxes and bankrupt cities that frequently endures newsworthy weather, like windy periods that whip up wildfires or mountain snowstorms that bury buildings and highways. While England virtually washes away, winter weather in the Golden State has gone the opposite direction and much of it is in the grips of a titanic drought that threatens to permanently shut down centuries old farming operations and cause food prices to jump accordingly.
And, of course, there’s Barrow, Alaska, a city of 4,212 on the north slope of the “Last Frontier.” Living there means not just enduring occasional or even frequent cold snaps, but pretty much permanent cold.
Located in a region that’s technically desert (with less than five inches of melted snow – or rain – during a typical year), the average annual temperature in Barrow is 11.7 degrees and there’s usually in the neighborhood of 160 sub-zero days per year. I guess that’s not too surprising (nor is the icy berg’s all-time low of minus 56), considering the place is well north or the arctic circle and the sun doesn’t rise above the horizon during a “polar night” that lasts from mid to late November to late January.
But hey, it’s not always cold in Barrow; five days with temperatures of 75 or higher have been recorded since 1922.
Suddenly, a little cold like we had earlier this month and a little topsy-turvy weather like we had in January doesn’t seem so bad. Speaking of January, according to the Weather Channel, temperatures in Houston dipped as low as minus 11 on the sixth and climbed as high as 64 on the 12th. And as our local volunteer firefighters are sure to recall, there were also some stiff winds and a significant lack of moisture for quite a while that caused fire danger to become an issue.
But it could have been worse. There could have been a four-foot deep current running through our living rooms, or months of moisture-free days and nights that devastated our olive tree farms, or the knowledge that tomorrow’s high is always likely to be below freezing.
I’ll take what we get here – any day.
Still, this has been a doozie of a winter, and I’m right there with everyone else around here who can’t wait until it’s really, truly, undeniably safe to plant tomatoes again. I know we’re probably in for some serious heat in the not too distant future, and who knows if we’ll get another “100-year flood” (a year after we got the last one).
But I’m ready for the mushy ground to firm up and evenings to be mild enough that I can get out and brush a horse after dinner.
Incidentally, Weather Channel data states that the record highs in Houston for Feb. 23 and 24 are 81 and 80, respectively, and record highs for the last four days of the month are in the mid to high 70s. Woo-hoo! Suntans and grillin’ out!
Wait. Winter doesn’t end until March 20, so it might be best not to get out the beach towels and sunscreen and head to the lake.
I guess it’s worth noting, too, that the record lows for the 23rd and 24th are 1 and 7, respectively. So it could be 81, 1 or something in between in the coming days – only time will tell.
The bottom line is, we probably shouldn’t box up the knit caps and gloves just yet. As quotemeister Yogi Berra once so aptly said, “it ain’t over till it’s over.”
Applying that indisputable logic to wintry weather, I hope it’s over. But it might not be.
But it’s safe to say that even if it isn’t, it could be worse.
Doug Davison is a writer, photographer and newsroom assistant for the Houston Herald. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.