Snow: It seems to be a theme these days

I’m sitting here working on this post and snow is falling.  We are only supposed to get a couple of inches before it turns to freezing rain.  That should make lovely driving.  But snow seems to be on people’s minds.  How much snow will we get?  Will the ski season be a good one?  And how will climate change impact snow?

Mark Vanhoenaker wrote an opinion piece in the New York Times Review yesterday.  He began

SNOW was my first love. From November’s first flakes and the season’s first blizzard, to unexpected midnight dustings and late March blasts, snow fell frequently and happily on my childhood in western Massachusetts. I never complained about the unshoveled, post-blizzard darkness of my paper route, nor about scrambling over icy drifts en route to school. In the evenings I read in front of our wood stove, captivated by thoughts of Narnia’s endless winter.

Snow gives us a new world. It gives us (not least) a day off to contemplate it. Snow bestows silence: deep snowfalls “spread their peace,” said Saint-Exupéry. Above all, snow gives meaning to the great indoors. Thoreau wrote that in winter, “warmth stands for all virtue.”

But, he wonders, will snow go away?

Fortunately, despite worries about a warming planet, no one is predicting the end of snow anytime soon. Some cold places will see more snow, because warmer air can carry more moisture. In the Northern Hemisphere, snow coverage this past December was the greatest since records began in 1966, Rutgers University’s Global Snow Lab reported. But Dr. David Robinson, a climatologist at Rutgers, warns that year-to-year fluctuations and regional differences can deceive casual observers. In general, he says, there has been an “overall decline in snowfall.”

Other studies echo that conclusion. The United States Global Change Research Program’s recently released draft National Climate Assessment reports that “Overall snow cover has decreased in the Northern Hemisphere, due in part to higher temperatures that shorten the time snow spends on the ground.” The report also notes a decline in the frequency of very snowy winters and in snow accumulations in the American West, and said we can expect more rainstorms “in previously snow-dominated settings.” A recent study by the Natural Resources Defense Council warns that without action on climate change, the snow season in the Northeast will be halved by 2100.

That is a long time off and maybe it won’t happen.  Yes, I think that there use to be a lot more of the white stuff.  The first couple of years after I moved to Boston the snowfall total was measured by Robert Parish.  Then one year a few years ago, it was Shaq O’Neal.  We seem to like to measure by Boston Celtic centers.  But  then I saw Zippy this morning.

Zippy snow

I started thinking about the biggest snowstorm I can remember from my New Jersey childhood and it may be the one from the mid-1950’s.  If Bill Griffith and I are remembering the same storm, it would have still been snowing when they came out of the Museum because the March 1958 storm dropped 11.7 inches on Central Park over several days.

We were living on a small New Jersey farm outside of Philadelphia.  It snowed from March 19 through the 21st.  There wasn’t a lot of warning and it kept snowing and drifting.  I think you could call it a blizzard.  We lost power at some point and it stayed off for at least a week.  The road near our farm looked a little like this.

We did have a small generator and ran the heat and various appliances separately.  I know we had to run the big freezer in the basement often enough to keep things frozen.  We had lots of meat and frozen vegetables.  I think after it stopped snowing, my father may have grilled outside.

We had drifts like this.

There was a path to the chicken house my father and grandfather tried to keep shoveled because the chicken had to be fed and watered.  I think we used the old well and hauled up water in buckets once it stopped snowing.

Looking back is romantic, but I’m sure we were cold, tired of makeshift meals and a little bored.  I still like snow.

Photographs from Google Images of the March 1958 storm

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