Saturday, April 30, 2011

52 weeks of Personal Genealogy & History - Weather

Week 18. Weather. Do you have any memorable weather memories from your childhood? How did your family cope and pass the time with adverse weather? When faced with bad weather in the present day, what do you do when you’re stuck at home?

My weather memories are mostly of winter.  I grew up in Minnesota.  We had snow.  And cold.  And sometimes both, although when it's cold enough, it doesn't snow much.  Not enough moisture in the air.

I remember a lot of winters with heavy snowfall amounts, where we started wondering where we would put the next batch to fall, as we were already shoveling it higher than we could easily reach.  Well, I was pretty short, so it may have seemed deeper to me, but I do remember large piles of snow everywhere as it was cleared from driveways and sidewalks and parking lots.  We used to dig tunnels in the parking lot snow hills for play forts. 

Except one year.  If I remember correctly, it was the winter of 1976/77.  It was bitterly cold most of that winter, and never snowed more than a couple of inches at a time.  And by bitterly cold, I mean -40 to -60 before looking at windchill.  Now, Minnesota often sees short bits of that kind of cold most winters, but that year seemed like weeks of mostly that kind of cold.  We learned how to dress in many layers, and to keep any skin covered, as temperatures that low are very quickly dangerous to exposed skin.

We also have interesting weather in the summer.  We're at the north end of Tornado Alley, but being at the end, we still get our share of them, sometimes deadly.  It's not unusual to hear the sirens going off during a storm.  In fact, it seems more frequent now than it did when I was growing up!  But that's probably because they sound them when radar shows a strong possibility of a tornado, instead of waiting for someone to spot a funnel cloud.

Spring, our current season, is rather volatile in Minnesota.  Our geographic location seems to cause unstable weather patterns that feature many grey, rainy days with scattered sunny days in between.  Just as it looks like the weather is turning into a nice spring, a new round of rainy blah will strike to put a damper on everything.  If you wanted to get in an early campout, you're going to have trouble finding a stretch of nice weather in which to do it.  And the temperatures are also unstable, going from freezing to hot in the same day, sometimes, but definitely within the same week.  You can get up in the morning to see frost on the ground, scrape your car windows before the drive to work, and wear a winter coat, only to come home with all of the windows open or the air conditioner on, and a short sleeved shirt.

It's not safe to plant your garden too early here, as a late spring snow is all too possible.  In fact, tonight's forecast is calling for frost, at the end of April.  So we wait, and have a shorter growing season.  That tends to limit some of the things we can reasonably grow in our gardens.  Farms tend to be mostly corn and soybeans, with some potatoes, wheat, and sugar beets to the west along the Red River. 

First frost tends to happen in mid-September, although if it's a light frost the gardens may continue to grow for a bit.  But we find by early-to-mid October that everything is pretty much shutting down in preparation for the coming winter.  It's not unusual to have snow on or before Halloween, although it doesn't usually stay until mid November.  Fall tends to be much like spring, unstable with many grey, rainy days.  By early December, we're definitely in the grip of the coming winter, and we start the cycle all over again.