Snow daze


How snowy is it?  It’s so snowy that … I’m not in a mood to joke.  The Midwest in general has seen more snow than any of us would like.  As of today the official total for the season at the MSP Airport is over 72 inches, putting us on a pace as the second snowiest Winter ever (behind 1981-82 by just under 4 inches).  That’s six feet of snow, about two meters.  Once it’s taller than I am, I give up.

The record total, set in 1983-84, is 98.4 inches total.  That’s over 8 feet. It took a very snowy March that year to give them the record.  How snowy is March?  Last year, for the very first time, we had … no snow at all.  So you never know in the middle of a big continent.  Follow the link to this and more information than you could possibly ever want on weather for nearly 200 years here.

But could this mean anything?

Bad weather is just something that you have to expect in the Midwest.  The systems are fueled by the Jet Stream and the Gulf of Mexico in a dance between cold and humid air that shakes up and down across the continent to its own rhythm.  You can think of it as an ancient fertility rite of spring if you want, since it creates the richest grain belt in the world.  Billions owe their lives to this turbulent annual courtship.

The problem comes, as with all passion, when there’s just a little too much of it.  We had a wet fall with an unusual September flood that saturated the ground ahead of this Winter.  The official flood forecasts did not look very good even before this most recent snow, and we do have all of March to look forward to.  Expect incredible floods throughout the Midwest this year.

Before we even start piling up the sandbags against this flood, city budgets are hopelessly screwed.  Getting rid of all this snow has already nearly tapped Saint Paul’s snow removal budget for the year, according to what I’ve heard.  You don’t have to drive down Summit Avenue or Randolph Avenue too far before the rhythm of them falling apart scrambles your brain.  This is an artifact of a wet Winter with a lot of freeze / thaw cycles, and it will be expensive to repair.  I doubt that anyone thinking about the State budget has yet to add up the cost of this across every city in the State.

Lest I sound like I’m complaining too much, I want to thank MnDOT for fixing I-94 so thoroughly last summer.  If they hadn’t done that it would almost certainly be unusable by now.

When we have a Winter this nasty there is a natural tendency to try to make sense of it as part of something bigger.  Humans are pattern-matching machines, a skill that we learned long ago when we needed to be able to recognize both predators and prey as mere shadows at the thin edge of a savannah horizon.  With tremendous floods nearly everywhere at once – including Australia, Brasil, and California – is this a sign that something is happening on our planet?

I think it may be, but we can never be sure until we see the long haul.  I do think that the recent fall-off in solar activity may be a sign that our sun is putting out less radiative heat than it did over most of the last century.  That could reasonably cause the amount of water that can be supported in the Troposphere (the lower atmosphere) to fall rather suddenly.  We won’t know a thing for sure until at least after the next monsoon season in India, which is next August.

In the meantime, all we can do is complain, try to stay warm and keep shoveling.  I have an enthusiastic ten-year-old who is doing a lot of the heavy lifting for me, which helps a lot.  Still, next year I’m going to give hibernation a lot of serious thought