Northland Nature: Returning north from springEach spring for the past several years, I have gone on a trip to the south. It gives me a chance to experience two springs.
Each spring for the past several years, I have gone on a trip to the south.
Taking a few weeks in March or April to step out of the late-winter scene of northern Minnesota to wander through spring in the latitudes 700 or 800 miles to the south of here is a refreshing look at not only what is happening in the vernal world in these southern states, but I see it also as a glimpse into the future of what will be occurring in the Northland once the season settles in. It gives me a chance to experience two springs.
This double season is what is expected and it does happen, but there have been some major surprises as well.
Twice (2010 and 2012), I left in March with about a foot of snow on the ground only to have record-setting warmth and very early melting. I returned home to a scene completely devoid of snow, not what I expected in late March. (An early ice-out allowed me to paddle in the lake already in March.) During those years of mild March not only did the snow melt, we did not get any more snow through the month of April.
A more normal situation was in 2011 when we left in a snowfall and returned shortly before another, neither of which gave much of a covering.
And so when we left on a trip this year at the time of the vernal equinox in March for a journey into the southern spring, I expected a more normal return.
The snowpack that had accumulated during the snowier-than-usual March was at about 20 inches. The seasonal snowfall total was a respectable 78 inches, but no snow fell during the week before we left and a slow warming trend was going on in the last week of the month. This gave for a nice steady slow melt and we looked forward to coming back in 30 days to a typical April day of patches of melting snow, ice going out in wetlands and temperatures in the fifties or sixties.
I did not expect that we would be regressing into another phase of winter in this record-setting April.
In 2012 we experienced a record-setting March with the warmest temperatures ever for this month, with several days in the seventies. This year, the month was April, and the records were of another type. This present month was one of snowfall.
With more than 40 inches falling during this month, the old record was eclipsed by greater than 10 inches. The seasonal snowfall total had leapt from 78 to over 120 inches, all this following an April of 2012 that produced virtually no snow. I was in other states while this amazing spring snow was falling, but I was aware of what was happening.
And now I return.
After 30 days we expected to be going north with the spring, not from the spring. I looked forward to walking in a woods of early migrants, perhaps a few wildflowers in bloom and hearing calling frogs.
But when we left the spring season in the south, we really left spring. Missouri was green lawns and trees. Iowa faded from green grass in the south to brown further north. As soon as we entered Minnesota, we began to see patches of snow on the ground. This became consistent near the Twin Cities and north of the metro area; the snow cover was complete and thick. We also noted ice-covered lakes as we moved further north.
Home was blanketed with April snow and I noted that the snowpack was about 20 inches, nearly the same as a month ago! Not only has the month produced greater amounts of snow than anyone expected, but it was also chilly (even a couple of record-setting low temperatures). And the ponds, swamps and lakes held this impressive snow coat above persistent ice.
Instead of returning to lawns and flowers, I’m back to snow shovels and plows. And today’s walk in the woods was done on snowshoes. I did not see all that I had hoped to find in late April; but despite the snow, Canada geese, robins, red-winged blackbirds, hermit thrushes and yellow-rumped warblers all welcomed me back (but there was also redpolls at the feeder).
The expanding hours of daylight, now at fourteen, tells me that the season, though late, will come. I’ll need to wait a bit more, but I’ll get a second spring.
And now as I look around at this huge snowpack as we exit April, I wonder about the next concern: How will this much spring snow impact the warming season to come?
Retired teacher Larry Weber is the author of several books, including “Butterflies of the North Woods,” “Spiders of the North Woods” and “Webwood.” Contact him c/o email@example.com.