By mid-December, one aspect of the weather we always expect is snow. This year, our white blanket has not lasted as it might normally have. A quick change in the weather caused whatever snow we had on the ground to leave before Thanksgiving, but another weather variation returned us to the land of snow and cold as we exited November.
I always think of the second half of November as being our time of freeze-up and the start of the snow season. For many years, this cover would persist for at least the next four months.
And so it looked that way as we began December, but the first week of December sent us on a relapse, and most of the Northland's ample six-inch coat was taken away. It's hard to keep a snow cover as temperatures rise to nearly fifty degrees. Even at night, the temperature remained above freezing.
Our next look at winter hit us on Sunday, Dec. 9. Much of our region received more than six inches of new snow, and with a subsequent temperature drop into the single digits, it looked like the snow would be here to stay.
It is interesting to note that for the first half of December, the amount of snow recorded in Duluth was slightly more than normal -- and with the temperatures, so was the measured precipitation -- unusual, with our not having more precipitation than normal since June's flood. (Due to the amazing statistics of May and June, 2012 will be beyond the average annual precipitation. Will it continue?)
Also of note is the temperature so far in December. As of mid-month, the mercury had dipped to near zero several times, but never officially went below this mark. (Outlying areas did reach into the negative zone a couple of times.) The first half of the month has been warmer than normal.
Like many veteran residents of the Northland, I welcomed the snow that we received on Dec. 9: enough for good cross-country skiing, but not too much to stop my woods walks. And it gave a picturesque covering of the whole forest. Not only were the conifers (evergreens) coated by this addition, so were the deciduous trees.
The ruffed grouse, snowshoe hare and meadow vole were as glad as I was to see this blanket, though for different reasons, as residents relying on snow cover for winter survival.
I also marveled at another component of this December snowfall: the wind, or lack of it.
The snow fell over a period of many hours, accompanied by only light winds. (Because the snow settles, any snow measurer knows that the fallen amount needs to be recorded quickly.) Winds during or after a snowfall will not allow the snow to stay on trees for long, but days of calmness following a snowfall will.
The following days, which were mostly cloudy, did indeed retain this calm condition, and the snow that settled onto branches of trees was able to remain there.
Snow undergoes much change after it travels through the air and lands on the ground or other surfaces. In the snowpack, a metamorphosis largely dependent on temperatures takes place: The crystals that float down through the air unite with others, fusing to form units that cling together and take on new shapes.
A snow-covered branch becomes a single section of snow. After a while, gravity may cause this snow to sag off the branch, and observers call the pattern a "snow rope" or "snow snake." During my recent walks on the calm days following the snowfall of Dec. 9, I
located many, but in the spirit of the season, I decided to call them "snow garlands."
Like many formations seen after snow falls, the snow garlands did not last long. Winds, warmer temperatures and rain brought them down. But they gave a lot of beauty to this December scene while they lasted, and they may very well form again later in the winter.
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