Tuesday, January 10, 2023

It ain't really winter 'til your nose hairs freeze

 Every time we get a weak winter, I compare it to my memories of 1990-'91 and 1991-'92, the two that stood out for late arrival of snow, little accumulation, and overall mildness. The winter of 2005-'06 was another disaster for winter-based industries in New England, in which I recall doing more riding than skiing or other winter-specific activities. But a check of the records shows that in all of those winters we had at least some short periods of usable winter, and a few nights of nose hair freezing cold.

Your results may vary, but I find that nose hairs begin to freeze as the temperature nears 0°F, and intensifies as the temperature continues to drop. For instance, someone misread our digital thermometer and told me that it was 17°F one morning, but I knew as soon as I walked out and breathed in that it was 1.7°. 

When I'm stacking firewood into the shed in the summer, I often think about what conditions will be like when I reach that part of the pile during the dark and frigid months. I can recall many images of shivering under the cold LED light in the shed, pulling down an armload of logs to keep the wood stoves cranking against the implacable cold of the universe, toward which our end of the planet is pointed during the northern hemisphere's turn to aim away from the sun. This winter, just about every trip to the woodshed has been more like late March, or even April, except for the sun angle and day length.

I could post this as a ski column on Explore Cross-Country, but there is no skiing, and there might never be. It should surprise no one that this is the warmest, wettest, least useful winter on record, at least until the next one. We're already getting calls about bike service, not from winter riders, but from people who want to get a jump on their spring tuneups. We still have demand for ski services, so we don't want to reconfigure the workshop for grease, but we may need the income soon. It's still too early for full bike shop efficiency, so the wise rider will wait until at least mid-March, but that could change if winter-specific demand dries up.

I did notice in my training diaries from the 1990s, that I took more opportunistic rides back then. The training diary is also my daily quick summary of weather conditions, which I started adding right around that time, to give my other activity entries more context. Now I find that I really miss the hour or so that I carve out for a ride or a hike, when I have so much other stuff to get done on a day off. From the perspective of age, it seems that the people who get things done are the ones who long ago sacrificed their health, and fitness to the priorities of work. It shouldn't have to be that way, but any better way takes too much thought and care for each other's well being, to make sure that anyone who wants it can have a balanced existence.

The other argument against too much riding is that a rider needs weight-bearing exercise for bone density, and to use the body in different ways that relieve the muscles and joints from the limited range of motion provided by pedaling. You can do weight training, and definitely should stretch in some way, but for the unscientific trainer it's easiest to go do something else. Yesterday, I hiked up the mountain behind my house. I probably won't do it again, because the logged areas are now choked with brambles and sweet fern, and the uncut swaths are filling in with bushy little saplings flourishing because so much sunlight can get in. With decent snow, the brambles and sweet fern are at least somewhat covered and separated by it. Yesterday, I was either wading through the thorns or pushing through the beech thickets to try to gain a few yards on the remnants of the old forest floor.

Because I started late, I did not gain a summit, only one of the intermediate steps that offered a view westerly. To the north I saw that Ossipee Lake is not fully frozen. That is not a deep lake. I know that the big lake, Winnipesaukee, isn't frozen shut, but it is deeper and much larger, requiring a longer, harder freeze. Even giant mud puddles like Province Lake had such thin ice that the ferocious winds of the storm on December 23 broke it all up and piled it on the leeward end, where it refroze into a surface useless for skating. I remember a hike in about 1997, on a small range just over the border in Maine, from which I saw the startling blue of Sebago Lake, unfrozen in a landscape of white. We did have some snow that winter, although as climate change really started to sink its claws into the region, the weird sight of open water provided a warning to the few who cared to acknowledge it.

A native of the area used to say that he hadn't noticed much change in the climate, even up to a couple of years ago, but he has been pretty quiet about it recently. I doubt if his nose hairs have frozen any more than mine have, even if he does live in one of the colder little valleys. And, as a logger, he knows darn well that the wetlands haven't firmed up to allow the normal amount of winter cutting.

No matter how much the temperature warms, the sun angle and day length won't change. There will be more losses than gains, from many economic sectors. People have already reported ticks. Various unpleasant insects are expanding their ranges. The purifying freeze, as hard as it might feel at the time, serves a purpose for the overall health of the ecosystem. Unfrozen lakes in winter warm sooner and reach higher temperatures, aiding things like cyanobacteria, which ruins summer recreation after a warm winter ruined that season's recreation. Cyanobacteria can kill your dog. And it's not that great for humans.

We're only at the beginning of winter's July. There's plenty ahead. Averages are made of highs and lows, so we could get slapped with a little cold snap. The longer it takes to get here, the harder it will bite, because we can't help instinctively feeling like spring when the temperature mimics it. As the sun launches more and more steeply up the morning sky, the first half of a mild day will make you forget how much winter still lies ahead, until the instant shift to late afternoon light reminds you. The sunset is getting noticeably later, but it darn sure isn't late.


RANTWICK said...

I lived nearer Winnipeg Manitoba when I was young. I remember some DJ's or weather people referring to "nose stick factor"... Nice post fiend 🙂

cafiend said...