Growing up in northern Iowa I learned what tough winters were all about. Then I spent 14 years in Sioux City, a hilly river town where winter driving seems suicidal and the cold north wind blows in unobstructed from the plains of South Dakota. A dozen years in southern Iowa and now 14 years in the Des Moines area led me to believe winters were getting better.
Then came this winter. Winters definitely are not getting better. We are, it seems, experiencing a climate change, which history shows has happened with some regularity over the centuries.
Before I grumble and gripe too much, I need to put things into perspective.
So you think we’ve had a lot of snow this year? Consider the fact that the all-time world record for the largest snowfall in a single day was set in the United States on December 4, 1913. Old Man Winter dumped more than five feet of snow (63 inches, to be exact) on Georgetown, Colorado. In one day! And they didn’t have snow blowers back then.
Imagine what it was like at the Mount Baker Ski Area in northwest Washington, during the winter of 1998-1999 when a world record was set for the highest seasonal snowfall. A total of 1,140 inches (that’s 95 feet!) of snow fell there that winter.
I suffer from a touch of Seasonal Affective Disorder or S.A.D. Winter causes me to feel moody and saps my energy. Some of that could be old age, but the doctor says it’s S.A.D. Living in an area with 95 feet of snow in the course of one winter would turn my S.A.D. into full blown insanity. They could just put me in a rubber-walled room and slip a pizza under my door three-times a day.
Speaking of the emotional toll of winter, have you ever heard of chionophobia? That’s the fear of snow. You know, I might have a touch of that, too.
One of the strongest components of this fear is the idea of becoming snowbound. A forecast calling for a snowstorm can bring on cold sweats, panic attacks and even an unrealistic feeling of doom and dread. People with chionophobia will rarely venture out into the snow for fear of being stranded.
Then there’s the temperature issue.
So that 20-below stuff we had earlier this year was miserable? Consider the towns of Oymyakon and Verkhoyansk in Siberia. These two towns are considered to be the coldest permanently inhabited places in the world. During the winter temps in these communities average less than 50-below. Fahrenheit!
Oymyakon’s lowest recorded temperature was a frigid minus 96.16 (F) back in 1924. Ironically Oymyakon means "unfrozen water." Reindeer herders used to water their flocks in the thermal spring located nearby. According to Wikipedia the lowest natural temperature ever directly recorded at ground level on Earth is −128.6 °F at the Soviet Vostok Station in Antarctica, on July 21, 1983. How cold was it? Men at Vostok Station didn’t trim their moustaches and beards when the hair got too long. They just broke a little bit off! (Bad joke.)
Here in the United States the lowest temperature ever recorded was -79.8 degrees at Prospect Creek Camp in northern Alaska on January 23, 1971. The lowest temp ever recorded in the lower 48 states was -69.7 at Rogers Pass, Montana, on January 20, 1954. Our nation’s coldest temp in 2013 was 58-below in Chicken, Alaska, on Dec. 26. This is according to Christopher Burt, the Weather Underground historian who keeps track of such things. For decades Washta, a tiny town in northwest Iowa, held the record for having experienced the coldest temperature in Iowa history ? -47 on January 12, 1912. On February 3, 1996, however, Elkader tied that record when the mercury plummeted to -47 in that northeast Iowa community.
Well, I guess these winter weather extremes do make this winter in Iowa a little more tolerable. I maintain, however, that the thing I like most about winter is when it ends.
Winter makes me S.A.D.