What’s it gonna be? Cold or warm? (Illustration by George Foster)
My husband and I have been bracing for winter ever since November 3rd, when we turned back the clocks in every room of the house, at the office, in our cars, on our wristwatches, egg timers, and sundials. But preparing for winter is a quandary, now that the seasons are out of whack. As we in the Heartland recall, many of us spent last winter shining our snowshoes in anticipation of the cold, and before we knew it, it was March 3 and 81 degrees with our fans running on speed three.
Even the Farmers Almanac, a bastion of accuracy for reporting last year’s temperatures, confirms that the winter of 2011-12 was the fourth warmest winter ever, or at least since record-keeping began in 1895, if you don’t count that famous tropical storm Noah. Raise your hand if you think last winter was too mild. Yeah, I hear you. Even my goldfish, Nigel and Ramone, are raising their fins.
Our nation is classified into seven regional zones based on vegetation, temperatures, precipitation, and, for all we know, how we voted in the presidential election. Iowa belongs to Zone 4, which is supposed to have cold winters and four distinct seasons—but not too distinct, lest we spend every July being broiled and seared like a tuna steak. For a balanced seasonal cycle, nature needs a yearly dose of freezing temperatures to offset the summer heat and keep us in the zone. And unlike you snowbirds who winter in Miami, some of us humans need cold weather, too.
Don’t get me wrong, harsh weather makes me whine as loud as the next guy. I’m morally opposed to sub-zero temperatures, slippery roads, and ice storms that freeze my garage door and allow me only visiting access to my car. But a few weeks of 20-degree weather is the perfect prelude to spring thaw, when I can marvel at the daffodils and sunshine and start whining about the humidity.
We’re approaching a new world of global warming or whatever we’re calling it these days—climate change, Armageddon, or the year the Mayans ran out of felt-tip markers. Whether the changing trends are part of a natural cycle or from too many man-made barbecues, super-storms are becoming part of the landscape. So far, we’ve taken the first big step in dealing with storms by giving them names. Back in 1945, weather forecasters started naming cyclonic storms for recording purposes, naming them after saints, mythological creatures, and annoying politicians. In the 1950s, the U.S. Weather Bureau began naming hurricanes and tropical storms using female names, until 1978, when women demanded equal rights for men. This year, the Weather Channel started naming snowstorms to distinguish them from generally miserable weather, using power-names like Athena, Draco, and Magnus. And if Hollywood has anything to say about it, Son of Draco and Magnus II. There’s even a trend for naming extreme seasons, like last year’s Snowtober, and the Seinfeld Summer of George.
Long before there was Doppler or Al Roker, there was weather. And weather patterns can be traced back to the earliest formation of the planet, if you count Darkness and Light. The seasons, of course, were invented by the ancient Greeks. Demeter was the goddess of fertility, the harvest, and the non-GMO produce aisle. It was her job to keep the Earth green, sort of like Al Gore. But Demeter’s daughter Persephone was abducted to be Queen of the Underworld, which sounds like a rock band but it meant she was the bride of Hades, a much tougher gig. Eventually, Hades agreed to share custody of Persephone. She spends half of the year on Earth, when the land is warm and flourishes, and half in the Underworld, when the world is dark and cold. And that, my friends, is why we have seasons. That, and because the Earth’s axis is tilted from perpendicular to the plane of the ecliptic by 23.45 degrees, alternately exposing the north and south hemispheres to direct sun rays in a graduated sequence we call winter, spring, summer, and fall.
If there’s a point to all this, which wouldn’t surprise me, it’s that it’s becoming harder to predict what each season will bring. And this raises the practical question of how to prepare for winter. Here at the Fly-over Prairie Substation (my house), where our indoor-outdoor thermometer measures temperatures within six degrees of accuracy, give or take, we’re tackling your crucial questions about seasonal readiness. Last year we addressed your pre-winter concerns on how to weatherize your home and car, stock up for emergencies, and beat cabin fever with getaways to Cancun. Since then, here are some of the questions you’ve been asking about preparing for winter 2012-13: Should I bother to put the top back on my Jeep? Drain the pool? Close the windows? Can you find me a January getaway to Duluth?
We’ll get back to you on all of your concerns. But for now, remember that it’s always a good idea to prepare for cold weather, just in case. And in case of another mild winter, we suggest you tune-up your electric fans.
Patricia Draznin is a freelance writer, a film critic for The Iowa Source, and a blogger on The Huffington Post. Her humor archive is posted at www.writingtogo.com.