Years are as individualistic as people. So, too, are the dozen months which mark their circular journey — their variation from year-to-year different. Especially when it comes to weather.
A lot of folks have lately remarked how — up to this point — this year’s reiteration of February has proven decidedly weird. Freezing one day, near-balmy the next. A calm interlude of bright sunshine might be immediately followed the next day by bitter winds, dark clouds, and either cold rain or spitting snow.
The result of this arbitrary weather moodiness is disconcerting. In the same week, you can find yourself needing to wear a heavy coat for a trip to the grocery store on Monday, but by Wednesday you’re comfortable doing yard work in your shirt sleeves.
Such shenanigans are understandably confusing. How’s a fellow supposed to know how dress or plan an outing? You seemingly can’t trust the season!
“What’s the matter with our winter weather?” Elyesse, a waitress at my favorite breakfast cafe recently wondered.
“Yeah,” chimed in Carl, who owns the place and does most of the cooking. “Is global warming causing this mess?”
All I could do was shrug. “I dunno,” I said. Which obviously didn’t satisfy either, because they affixed me with similar glares I took to indicate outdoor scribes are indeed expected to know the answer to such matters.
I stared at my hash browns like a desperate gypsy trying to read a glob of tea leaves.
Okay, I’ll admit that while this second month of the year has never been known for weather consistency, that typical fickleness does seem to have carried to a pattern of opposite extremes this time around. However, I must also add that I’m not fully convinced such is the case — a real issue versus an imagined one — and I’m certainly not ready to hold global warming accountable.
When considering weather, it’s always worth keeping in mind that we’re talking about Ohio, and more specifically, the Miami Valley. I may be prejudiced, but I sincerely believe this is the Midwest’s hands-down nucleus for weather contrariness and instability.
Even a cursory examination of our local weather records will clearly reveal February’s history to be whimsical, capricious, almost teasing. Some would doubtless prefer erratic, volatile, and malicious. Pick your version. But it’s a fact to which anyone who has chalked up a few years residency can readily attest.
Moreover, human nature being what it is, we regularly set ourselves up for disappointment by asking and expecting too much. Give us a two-day hiatus from the month’s usual frigid norms and we figure such lovely moderate weather is going to last straight through into April.
Alas! Two days later we’re muttering dark imprecations — stoking the woodstove and shivering as we scrape ice from our windshield.
We want it to be spring. Therefore the merest hint of positive change encouraged our hopes and desires. A misperception skewed by the longing of our own hearts. Though seeing as how the majority view winter as an ordeal, one arguably nudged along by a loathing toward protracted suffering.
February is a weather changeling. This may be the final full month of winter, but it’s still winter.
Most years February serves up a mix of sun, snow, rain, sleet, wind, clouds, even the odd thunderstorms with lightening. There are warm days, cold days, balmy days, and well-below-freezing days.
You can occasionally go sledding and fishing in the same week — and I don’t mean ice fishing! I’ve also found skunk cabbage, snow trillium, and wild winter aconites in bloom in February.
A few years ago, while on a solo hill-country partridge hunt, February’s fickle weather — in the form of a freak snowstorm which swarmed over the ridge and immediately began dumping piles of snow — caused me to spend a hypothermic night bivouacked in a recess cave. A less-than-fun adventure.
I’ve never trusted February’s weather since.
So far as I’m concerned, a mild day anytime during February is best viewed as a gift — not a transmutation. Enjoy each and every moment, but don’t count on its setting a trend.
Spring is out there, beyond the horizon. Yet the road from here to that desired vernal destination remains both invisible and unknown. No matter what the weather on a given day, I’m willing to bet a fair number of curves, hills and potholes are still ahead.
All we can do is plod along, a day at a time … and keep a warm jacket handy.
Jim McGuire, a nature columnist, resides in Englewood, and can be reached at [email protected]