Hot and Cold

December 22, 2006 09:54 – 09:54

This makes no sense. We’re experiencing continual warming, right? Winters are, by and large, getting warmer. Living in northern Virginia in the 1960s, snow was much more frequent, as were winter days when lakes, ponds, rivers, and other natural bodies of water would freeze sufficiently for outdoor ice skating. This persisted until the early 1970s, when I was still able to ice skate for miles on the canal near Georgetown. I remember a whole week in 1970 when the temperature never rose above 10 degrees. From an outdoor recreational standpoint, it was heavenly.

When I graduated from Georgetown in 1973 and moved to Michigan for graduate school, my parade of cold winters continued. I remember a day in January, 1974, when the NWS had forecast a low of -40. I took my thermometer outside at about midnight. There was a slight breeze, and the temperature was 0 degrees. I stood there to see if it would drop at all. And, after a few minute, it dropped a little below zero. Disappointed, I continued to watch, willing the temperature to fall.

All of a sudden, the breeze stopped, and everything got extremely still and quiet. I watched the thermometer in awe as the red liquid inside began a freefall. At 12:20, it was -4. Over the next 30 minutes, it visibly dropped an additional 41 degrees to -45. Testing a theory, I spat. My spittle bounced on the pavement—frozen before it hit the ground. My thermometer was not broken.

Over the next several years, East Lansing and then Lansing continued to thrill me with cold winters. But, I was annoyed because the -45 was never repeated. Sure, the lakes continued to freeze enough to be driven onto, but the dates on which they froze sufficiently seemed to be moving later and later, and the thaw dates moved earlier.

When I moved from Michigan to Massachusetts in 1977, there was little to suggest that winters were becoming tamer. Although, temperatures in Lexington would never rival the lows in Lansing, the four feet of snow in the winter of 1978 helped me realize my winter wonderland fantasy. Yet, as snowy and wonderful as it was, it was certainly no “better” (keeping in mind that I’m a snowaholic) than the winters of my youth in Rose Hill and Bush Hill in Fairfax County.

When we moved back to the DC area in 1978, however, I was delighted by 3+ feet of snow that fell in early 1979—our first winter in the Mount Vernon area. “Winter is back!” I thought. If it was back, however, it was only for a short visit. Over the next 25 years, generous snowfalls became increasingly rare. Even the so-called “Blizzard of ’96” was nothing like the blizzards of 1966 and 1979. In 1969, we had three consecutive blizzards in a two week period. At the end of the third storm, we had over 3 feet of snow in the street, and over five feet of snow in the yard. Never mind that our house caught on fire and it took the fire trucks forever to get there through three feet of snow on the road.

Earlier this week, when the temperature hit 74 degrees at National Airport—this is mid-December, folks—I donned my running shorts and t-shirt and went out for my daily 10K walk/run. It was awful. Making it worse, the trees are now denuded of foliage, making shady breaks harder to come by. But, even more than that, December should be in the 30s, not the 70s. It was in the 60s as I began making my way through the hills of Mt. Vernon. I would love a temperature like that in July or August. But, in December, it makes my blood boil. As I ended my jaunt, the temperature at my house had already reached 71, and would climb a few more degrees before retreating.

Imagine, however, temperatures like this—and warmer—throughout the winter. Imagine a winter where 30s are the rare exception, rather than the rule, and temperatures in the teens and lower are unheard of. Is that what’s in store for baby boomers as they begin their retirement years?

Apparently. But, not just because of global warming. Rather, it’s because of migratory trends. According to an analysis of census trends, presented in today’s USA Today, over 50% of last year’s population growth in the U.S. occurred in southern states. Arizona was the fastest-growing state, and North Carolina moved into the top 10 most populous states, pushing New Jersey out of the lineup.

This is what I don’t get. The NWS tells us that temperature trends are going up, and that to maintain same level of winteriness I grew up with, I will have to move north—not south. Yet, people are flocking in droves to places like Arizona. True, there are areas of civilized climate in Arizona, but that’s not where these birds are flocking. They’re flocking to places like the Phoenix and Tucson areas. I don’t get it.

Maybe it’s because areas like those are so hot to begin with that they can’t possibly get any hotter. Maybe, given air conditioning, people are content to live indoors and to ignore what goes on outside. Or, maybe they’re shortsighted. Or, maybe senility has already seized control of their senses.

Twenty years from now, I predict a crash in the real estate market in places like Arizona, southern Texas, the Gulf States, Florida, Georgia, and the Carolinas. As the mercury rises, so will the imaginary median line, north and south of which exactly half of the North American population resides. Why do I say North American rather than American? Because warming isn’t local. As the U.S. heat up, many of us won’t stop at the border. We’ll keep on going into Canada.

Some of this is already happening, continentally speaking. People mistakenly think that Mexicans come to the U.S. looking for jobs. Wrong. They’re coming here looking for cooler weather. And, as this trend continues and even escalates, 25 years from now, don’t be surprised if Canada starts talking about building a 6,000 kilometer fence.

In the meantime, it’s heartwarming to know that somewhere, the thermometer still dives below zero in some places. Right now, my Weather Watcher temperature indicator says -23. With the wind, it feels like -36. Today’s high will be -6. The sun will rise at 10:14 am, and will set at 2:47 pm. Outside, there’s a blanket of about 3 feet of snow on the ground, and the dogs love it. Oh, yeah. My Weather Watcher’s current city is set to Tok, Alaska. I can dream, can’t I?

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