Friday, January 1, 2010

January 1 in Meteorological History


New Years Day 1974 dawned clear and crisp and blistering cold in Rice Lake Wisconsin.

Having not gotten too imbibed the night before I dragged myself from bed and went to our barn to milk cows at 6:15 that morning. Chores completed I returned to the house about 8:00 and as I walked from the barn to the house I remember spitting. Just like in the classic Jack London story To Build a Fire, the little ball of spit was solid ice before it hit the snow. That and the fact that my lungs hurt with each breath I took suggested it was bitterly cold.

Over breakfast we listened to the latest "news" on WJMC radio, at the time THE news source in Rice Lake, (now unfortunately its where people turn to listen to Rush Limbaugh and other purveyors of hate speech - but I digress). During the 8 a.m. news summary good old Dick Kaner reported to the faithful listening in that the air temperature at the Rice Lake airport along Orchard Beach Lane in town was a brisk -62 degrees F.

That was the air temperature not the wind chill. It being too damned cold for wind there was no wind chill. It was that freaking cold.

I waited until about 10 a.m. when the temperature had warmed up to the mid -40's and started my car. This being my regularly scheduled day to check beaver traps I had to make the trek out to see what I had caught in the last three days.

With my then almost one year old Chesapeake Bay Retriever along, we drove southeast of our farm to the north-south road that runs on the west side of the now-defunct Hardscrabble Ski Area. There we parked along the road, I put on snow shoes, and we hoofed it more than a mile through the woods to a beaver colony where I had four traps set. Checking the first two traps after chopping through way too much ice I came up with a goose egg. The third trap yielded a 30 pound yearling and the last trap held a 60 pound female who, unfortunately, was frozen into the ice.

After chopping her free from what seemed like every ounce of ice on that beaver pond I put 90 pounds of beaver in my trap basket and we started the trek back to my car. By now it had warmed up to the -30's. I had worn solid wool and with the exercise and the added 90 pounds on my back I was soon sweating as we hiked. Eventually I removed my wool coat and walked through the forest wearing just a wool shirt and a wool hat on my upper body. Steam rose off me like the plumes of steam at a power plant in winter!

I think of that blistering cold morning every year on New Years Day and remind myself why I'm glad my roots are from Wisconsin but more importantly why I no longer live there in winter!

Contrast that scene from 36 years ago with the current +64 degrees F in Sarasota and instead of that snowy landscape, look at this picture just taken through the screen of my lanai toward the wetland 30 feet from my house. Granted its raining like mad right now but everything is GREEN outside and I'm running around in shorts not wool pants.

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