Thursday, March 5, 2015

Another cold winter and ? cool spring?

The Full Worm Moon.
      The Algonquin Indians had a name for everyone of the full moons of the year. The third full moon of the year was called the Worm moon. This nickname probably arose because in the month of March, the frozen ground begins to soften, and the earthworms begin to become active. Their castings are first seen on the surface of the soil. And of course the presence of these earthworms moving near the surface of the soil attracts our well know harbinger of spring, the American robin to come north to its breeding ground where it can now easily find food in the form of the earthworms. Some tribes also named this full moon the Sap Moon because the maple syrup begins to flow in the month of March.

    This full moon of March 5, 2015 drew my attention this evening, rising over Lake Michigan. The round disc had a certain light orange cast at first which is often associated with the Harvest moon of the fall. But this is no harvest moon. This one created a typical path on the lake waters that I love to view so much. But the path was a short one. There is not much open water on Lake Michigan, just an indigo blue band near shore this afternoon, perhaps with the help of some warmth in the bright March sunshine. Tonight the surface ice has moved back in and is interrupting my well loved moonlight pathway on the lake surface.

     The March 4th percentage ice coverage of Lake Michigan was about 80%. Lake Superior and Lake Huron are 95 % covered. Lake Erie is 100% ice covered. Lake Ontario is like Lake Michigan, about 80% covered.  According to the Chicago Tribune monitoring service, on Feb 18 the percentage of coverage of the entire Great Lakes with ice was 85.2%, a little bit higher than last year on Feb 18th. A warmer day or two had reduced this value, but now at least on Lake Michigan the last Arctic blast has again increased the ice coverage back up to its high of mid February. Below is a Chicago Tribune photo taken from satellite on about Feb 18, 2015.

     While we gazed outside at bright sunlight with a high of 14 degrees this afternoon and are looking again at below zero temps tonight again, a snow storm crossing Kentucky and Tennessee dumping almost 2 feet of snow has stranded a 30 mile long traffic jam of trucks and cars on the freeway. People have been stranded in their cars for up to 18 hours. One lady said she was melting snow to provide herself some drinking water. Of course we all know the Boston area and other east coast cities with their record levels of snow fall this winter.

      This extraordinary winter has created several interesting tourist attractions. Here is a link to a Chicago Tribune article with a video of frozen Niagara Falls. Of course portions of the falls always freeze but this year has provided much more extensive ice formations. One intrepid man even climbed the frozen portion of the falls as though climbing a miniature El Capitan in Yosemite. The following is a link to the video showing Niagara Falls.

     Closer to home the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore again for the second year in a row has opened the shoreline ice caves to the public. Supposedly these are quite the natural structures to see also. Unfortunately I will not be visiting them and will not have my husband's photos of them to show here. We are not up for winter walking on ice to get to these caves. But here is a photo from the Chicago Tribune.

     What do you think the source of all this winter weather is? Well, the answer is less than certain. but scientists do believe that global warming, with warmer air from the south which carries more moisture leading to larger snow falls when that warmer air moves north. In other words these produce more extreme storms with more rainfall and more snow, but longer periods without precipitation creating drought in some areas. Coupled with these storms, the polar vortex has become unstable in the last few years, broadening and sending colder air down into temperate zones. It is postulated that the normal cold winds that form over Arctic ice stabilize the vortex. With less summer Arctic ice the sea water temperature changes; the melting ice slightly freshens the sea water, changing ocean currents; and these factors may alter these stabilizing winds allowing the vortex to move further south. If you would like to learn more about these forces, here is a link that explains better than I can:

     But tonight's weather forecast is looking brighter. This night of below zero temperatures may be the last for this year, we hope. Temperatures will rise into the thirties this weekend and next week we may have temperatures in the high forties all with a fair amount of sunshine. There will be a spring. It is on the 7 day forecast now. I am going through the garden catalogs. Can't wait to get my hands dirty.

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