Retired teacher Larry Weber is the author of several books, including “Butterflies of the North Woods,” “Spiders of the North Woods,” “Webwood” and “In a Patch of Goldenrods.” Contact him c/o firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Member for
- 3 years 9 months
May is the greening month in the Northland. Way back in mid-October, the deciduous trees of the local forests prepared for winter by dropping their leaves. These organs, the sole source of food-making for the plants, are extremely valuable throughout the summer as plenty of daylight, ample rains and warm temperatures allow for photosynthesis to work properly. But in the arid air of winter, these same structures would lose so much moisture that the trees would die of dehydration. And so in autumn (mostly October), the trees shut down their food-making and survive on anything that’s stored.
After five months, we are now seeing what life is like in the Northland without a snow covering. It was way back in late November of 2013 when a snowfall of a couple of inches covered the ground. Many of us were glad to see this new white coat. I remember getting out the cross-country skis and finding all the new tracks in this fresh substrate. The tracking season had begun. A few days later, in early December, this cold blanket was enlarged as three days of snow gave us an added two feet.
Trees spent the winter standing in all the weather while we took shelter. Whether it was a couple of feet of snow, temperatures far into the negative numbers for long periods of time or strong winds, they remained out here in the forests, parks, yards and wetlands. In response to the longer days and a slow warming temperature, things changed. I usually notice tree changes by the end of February. This year, it took until we were well into March, but they did respond. Starting small, the red osier dogwoods developed bright red branches.
Now, as we approach mid-April, it is looking more like we have completely emerged from this long and amazing wintry season. Temperatures are regularly getting into the 40s and 50s; even during many nights, we are in the 30s. Our considerable snowpack that has lasted from early December (more than 125 days of continuous 15 inches or above) is starting to shrink. And we wonder if the seasonal snowfall total of nearly 118 inches will increase. (Many times in past years, we have received snows in late April and even May.) But the light persists.
The snowfall began in the late morning. A bit slow but continuous at first, it turned into a heavy fall in the afternoon with more than an inch per hour. With little wind and a temperature that held in the 20s, the snowstorm was a beauty. By the time the system had moved on at dusk, the new snow blanket ranged from three inches to about a foot. It was an absolutely beautiful covering of the landscape with all tree branches coated.
According to the calendar, the new season of spring has arrived. As we leave the month of March and ease into April, the daylight continues to lengthen and we will soon be at 13 hours of light. All seems to be well in the new season, except the response to the longer days has been slow.
March began as a continuation of February. We had several subzero temperatures and even had one record-setting day of 23 below zero during this first week. But in the second week, as temperatures on several days reached into the 40s, once even the 50s, the feeling became a bit more like April. Now, at the time of the vernal equinox, we are having temperatures and snow that are more conducive to those of March. And the longer days continue. Passing the first day of spring, we now have more hours of daylight each day than of darkness.
The month of March is a time of change. Though winter’s grip with subzero temperatures may prevail at the start, the days continue to get longer, giving us more sunlight. The 11 hours at the beginning becomes 12 shortly after mid-month at the time of the vernal equinox, and we exit the month with a sunrise at 6:50 a.m. and setting at 7:35 p.m. Despite the lingering chill, Sol’s power wins the battle and the temperatures climb. This slow warming trend is not always reflected in the snowfall. March snows have varied greatly over the years with substantial snowstorms.
It’s early March. We’re in a new month where the days get longer, and slowly rising temperatures are blended with lingering snowfalls. And we reach the vernal equinox, the first day of spring (March 20 this year, about three weeks from now). The time from Dec. 21, the winter solstice, until March 20, the vernal equinox, is known as the astronomical winter season. But when it comes to weather observations, the months of December, January and February are collectively referred to as the meteorological winter.
As the month of February is winding down, the grip of subzero temperatures has lessened a bit and we have had some readings that even got above freezing. These temperatures, along with the longer days (we are now approaching 11 hours of daylight), can give more of a spring-like appearance. But we know that winter is in no hurry to exit. Temperatures may be on the slow rise, but in the weeks to come we will still have cold snaps and the other part of winter — snow — will no doubt be making its appearance as well. We’ve had quite a winter.