Wow…what a strange winter we’ve been experiencing up here in Minnesota. Unseasonably warm and dry for a good part of November and December…and then finally it turned cold for a period just before Christmas. I have to believe that more than any other state in this country, Minnesota has some of the most variety when it comes to weather.
I know this might be hard for someone in warm Florida or California to believe, ‘cause they think that Minnesota stays cold and snowy for 10 months each year…but did you know that we are now in one of the longest stretches where there has been no snow in our history? Indeed, as we enter the new year much of at least southern Minnesota is still brown and in some areas we have not see the ground even covered completely white as of yet this year. Strange.
Of greater concern, however, is the blast of freezing rain we experienced on New Year’s Day. I hate to see rain come down in the form of freezing rain. It is so damaging to our wildlife, particularly to the pheasants. When it rains and then immediately freezes these poor birds will actually have their eyelids frozen shut and will die quickly. Furthermore, if the birds do not have proper shelter to hide from the onslaught of the rain…they can literally freeze in place and then die. There’s no doubt about it…freezing rain definitely affects the pheasant population with some severe consequences.
Of course, other wildlife populations suffer, too. When you get about a half inch of frozen ice on everything it gets that much more difficult for all creatures to break through the ice barrier just to get to their food sources. Whether you’re a squirrel foraging around for nuts or grain, or even a turkey trying to scratch up some remnants from a corn field…life is not made any more easy by dealing with freezing ice.
Typically freezing ice will occur either early in the cold season or late in the spring…but not generally during the time of the year when we take down the old calendar just to hang up a new one. Usually by the middle of the winter…and by most accounts you could call this period of time the middle of winter…we would have had at least a foot of snow (total accumulation) with above freezing temps several weeks in our rear view mirror, so to speak. But alas, this is Minnesota…and with our “theater of seasons” you can pretty much expect almost anything to happen. Not too many years ago I remember the temps even reached into the 70s in January…and a few golfers took advantage of the opportunity to play a few holes.
It has to be particularly frustrating for our ski operators and our snowmobilers who just have not had decent winters in recent years to even make those activities worthwhile. I suppose the best thing that can be said to most people who own a snowmobile is that they won’t be wearing them out. Still, it has to be frustrating to make payments on a toy all year long and then have the season of operation now reduced to less than three months long. I guess that is why I never bought a sled and opted instead for an ATV. It just seemed to make more sense to buy a toy that you can almost guarantee use for at least nine months each year…and if you’re lucky and the snow doesn’t get too deep…even longer.
No, the winter of ’04-’05 has certainly started out to be an unusual one for some of us in the upper Midwest. So far we’ve been lucky and much of the snow has either gone north of us or to the south of us. I guess dodging most of the storms thus far has been a benefit. But wildly fluctuating temps is not always what us winter sportsmen like to see when it effects wildlife…and furthermore, for those who like to ice fish the best ice is made with prolonged periods of deep cold temps with little snow. Not with temperatures that are cold for part of the week and then above freezing several days later.
That’s right…I need to remember this is Minnesota. I’ve been celebrating the fact that we have not had to deal with much snow so far this year. But a quick glance at the new forecast might put an end to my wishful thinking…indeed; the next four out of five days have snow in the weather forecast wither colder temperatures on the meteorological horizon. Ah, Minnesota!!!!
© 2005 Jim Braaten. All Rights Reserved. No Reproduction without Prior Permission.
Filed under: Natural History