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.
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This January morning began as many do in the Northland. We had temperatures in the single digits above zero, chilly but not that cold. And though the clouds had moved on by the time I walked, there was some light snow that fell during the night. From the looks of the driveway and road, it appeared as though about 1 inch of new snow covered the blanket we had earlier.
In the Northland we see and cope with snows of many types. It might be light flurries, scattered snow showers, consistent snowfalls or blizzards of many inches with substantial drifts. But snow is not the only winter precipitation. We also get rains. And when these rains happen at about the freezing temperature, we receive something called freezing rain.
Jan. 1 is the start of what is statistically the coldest and snowiest month of the year. According to the weather service, the average temperature of this month is 10 degrees and we may expect a half to two-thirds of the days with subzero readings. Snowfall now amounts to nearly 19 inches, the most for any month.
Winter solstice, the first day of winter, happened this week on Dec. 21. The meteorological winter began as we entered this month of December. But those of us who are observers of Northland nature happenings know that the seasons do not begin or end on a particular day. The changes progress gradually. Anyone who spent the last few years here remembers how the winter began in 2013 as compared to the reluctant start of 2015.
Like many other nature happenings, the freeze-up was late this fall. With all three months, September, October and November, being warmer than normal, this autumn was recorded as the third warmest for the Northland (after 1963 and 1931) and November 2016 was the second warmest (behind only November 1899), many things that we thought were over for the season continued to linger.
It looked like it had ended. When the rain that came on Nov. 18 changed to snow and continued for several hours, giving us a complete snow cover, it looked like the autumn interlude, that I like to call AutWin, was over. This marvelous period of time after the leaves drop from the trees and before the snow covers the ground was remarkable this year. We had about 30 days from Oct. 18 to Nov. 18 when conditions were mild and walking in the woods, either on or off the trails, was very interesting.
The snow and strong north winds that hit the region Nov. 18 ushered in some changes for this month. Up until this time, November had been very dry with less than 1/4 inch of precipitation; no snow. And the temperature that included some record-setting highs were far above normal.
The AutWin (autumn-winter) time in the Northland began with a thunderstorm on the night of Oct. 16-17, when wind and rain brought down the leaves. But afterward the weather was very dry, until the recent rain and snow. From Oct. 17 to Nov. 17, the National Weather Service in Duluth recorded only about 0.2 inches of rain, no snow. This absence of precipitation, combined with an average temperature of about 45 degrees, far above the normal of 35 degrees, made for a very mild 30 days.
This month has been referred to as "gray November." Such a label is a tribute to a period of time that is often the cloudiest for the whole year. Some years, the days proceed through November with clouds after clouds. Out of the clouds we may get rain or, later, snow. The month that begins with open waters of ponds, swamps and lakes ends with freezing. And so November has often been called the "cloudy freeze-up" month. And then there is November of 2016.