The winter of our discontent

Weather unites us, an army of the chilled, frozen in place.

We experience much of life differently. Homes, vehicles, lifestyles, political views.

But everyone has to deal with cold, snow, rain ... all the varieties of weather. We shiver in the severe cold, shake off the rain, mush our way through the snow.

In the last few days, we all got to experience extreme cold. Wind chills hit 60 below in some areas, and everyone endured bitter weather. It excited TV weathermen, closed schools and caused a lot of misery for farmers, postal workers and others who had to step outside into the frigid conditions caused by a rogue polar vortex.

The severe cold caused some folks, including President Donald Trump, to make uninformed and erroneous comments about global warming. In fact, the bitter conditions were caused by heat from Morocco that heated up an area above the North Pole, according to weather experts.

The arctic area saw temperatures rise 125 degrees, splitting the polar vortex and sending the horrific cold into the Midwest. Because of climate change, this is forecast to happen more in the future, according to Judah Cohen, a winter storm expert for Atmospheric Environmental Research. The cause: “sudden stratospheric warming.”

While the scientists study what caused this and try to predict how often it will happen, the rest of us dress in layers and hurry from home to car to work and back. We’re too busy trying to avoid frostbite to ponder the difference between climate and weather.

All we know is, it was damn cold. I donned thick socks, boots, sweat pants, jeans, two long-sleeved shirts, a heavy coat, gloves, scarf and stocking cap and it was still close to miserable.

We do try to warm ourselves with memories of previous storms. I instantly recalled the coldest day of my life, on Sunday, Jan. 10, 1982. I’m able to remember the exact date because a famous thing occurred — the San Francisco 49ers defeated the Dallas Cowboys 28-27 on a late touchdown pass from Joe Montana to Dwight Clark, a play immortalized as “The Catch.”

Dad and I watched the end of the game before going out to the barn to milk. I turned on the radio and heard the announcer say the wind chill was 76 below zero. That’s what it felt like, give or take a few frozen degrees. It could have been worse — Fargo, N.D., reported minus 98 wind chill. 

Some of us of a certain vintage recall the epic winter of 1968-69, the snowiest one I experienced. The National Weather Service in Sioux Falls recorded 94.7 inches of snow, highlighted by a 17.7-inch storm on Dec. 21-22, 1968.

I have vivid memories of massive snowdrifts outside our house. It was a delight for kids, as we suddenly had ideal sledding conditions a few feet from the front door. Frankly, we enjoyed that winter. We had a lot of time to play board games and cards, read, sleep in and relax. Our house, kept warm by an oil-burning heater, Mom regularly cooking and baking and the heat generated by a large, active family, was a good place to watch the TV reports on the winter and gaze out at the snow piling up.

Dad, who was doing most of the milking, feeding the animals and clearing the driveway with a loader attached to a tractor, may have had different memories of the winter.

We missed a lot of school that winter, another bonus. One reason for that was the piles of snow on the sides of roads, which would blow back onto the roadway after the latest storm.

That winter ended suddenly, and the thaw caused another problem, as massive flooding took place in April 1969. The high river stages on the Big Sioux River are still a record.”

The cold, snow and flooding were a reality for everyone. Roads were closed and schedules disrupted by the severe conditions.

We all had to share in it. That’s cold, hard truth about weather.

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