Tag Archives: polar vortex

Why the shortest month seems so long

winter in Amish country, Holmes Co. OH

The harsh winter weather has made February seem like a long month.

Every year I get the same sensation. February, the calendar’s shortest month, seems like the longest. A wide range of reasons could account for this annual hunch.

Much of that perception may have to do with February’s unfortunate spot in the calendar birth order. As the year’s second son of 12 siblings, February is bound to have an inferiority complex. Even with an extra day in a leap year, February still can’t measure up.

It certainly doesn’t help to be sandwiched between January and March, each with the maximum 31 days every year. Nor does it help that February is the last full month of winter. By now, humans north of the equator have had it with winter, especially this year. They can’t wait for spring.

Is the shortest month merely clamoring for attention with its temper tantrums of weird and wild weather? To be sure, the weather all across the northern hemisphere has been wicked. A lot of complicated and interconnected reasons account for that. Still, February cannot solely be held responsible.

The polar vortex, which usually calls the Arctic region its winter base, ran away from home this year. It escaped in the waning days of January, and the frigid and frozen effects spilled into February, adding insult to injury.

weather warning map

The latest February weather warning map.

The vortex settled into the eastern U.S., forcing the ordinarily westerly jet stream to warp south around it. We all paid the consequences of that detour, including February.

Blustery winds sent wind chills into the danger zone for millions of citizens, making the environmental conditions all the more brutal. When people thought they couldn’t take it any longer, the vortex slunk away, and a warm front helped set the jet stream aright. Soon, vehicles were mired in muck from a rapid thaw.

About that time, weather officials confirmed an El Nino had developed in the Pacific off southern California. Wave after wave of rain and snowstorms blasted the entire west coast, incapacitating major metro areas.

Damaging floods, mudslides, and icy and snow-clogged roads inundated areas not used to extreme winter weather. Even Hawaii got snow.

More rain pelted down in California. Another snowstorm blasted the state of Washington. Additional freeze warnings plagued northern Florida. All this and February still isn’t over yet. How long does it take 28 days to pass?

It would indeed be unfair to lay all of the responsibility for the climatological miseries on poor February. It was merely an accessory to the crimes, guilty by association.

Ignore the weather, and February has a lot to offer for being the shortest month. It boasts about hosting more holidays per diem than any other month.

February’s progressive party includes Groundhog Day, Lincoln’s birthday, Valentines Day, Washington’s Birthday, and Presidents’ Day. Of course, all of those human conceived days have morphed into nothing more than flashy marketing ploys for a small town in Pennsylvania and retailers big and small nationwide.

I suppose, however, that much of our February malaise comes from nothing more than cabin fever. Never mind the occasional warm day when you could poke your head outside. As we all know, that was nothing but a February tease. It’s safest to stay inside until March.

Despite February’s chilly temperament, she does offer us at least one advantage besides being the briefest month. From beginning to end, we gain almost an hour of daylight in February.

Winter’s darkness is waning. In that, we find hope, rejoice, and offer February our heartfelt thanks.

A snowy ride.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2019

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How to stay warm in the winter

winter weather, Ohio's Amish country

In winter’s grasp.

The polar vortex has had its way with most of us in the U.S. again this winter. Once it sank south and east out of the Canadian Arctic area, record cold temperatures and wind chills were set all across the northern states and some far into the south.

My wife and I watched the TV news in sympathy with those freezing in the frigidness of blinding blizzards and well below zero wind chills. We even had freeze warnings in northeast Florida, where we have spent parts of the last few winters.

Thanks to the Arctic air, it was cold there, too, in relative terms of course. Amelia Island is as far north in the Sunshine State as you can get. So when massive cold fronts spawned by the polar vortex invade the eastern U.S., we often feel the effects, too.

Fernandina Beach FL, Amelia Island FL

Pretty but cold.

With an ocean breeze and air temperatures in the 30s, the beach is no place to be either. Neither is the middle of a blizzard. We watched with dismay as TV reports showed the severity of weather conditions from several different stricken areas. Unfortunately, several people died from exposure to the dangerous cold.

I always liked the winter, and mainly snow. But the blizzards of 1977 and 1978 taught me that winter’s punishing harshness better be respected. Staying warm is always paramount.

That’s a primary reason for becoming a snowbird. I’ve said it before. The older I get, the colder I get. Other senior citizens that we met in Florida concurred. It is a natural consequence of the aging process.

Living in the heart of Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley isn’t quite far enough south to avoid winter’s icy blasts. So we continued our snowbird trips after moving from northeast Ohio.

We enjoyed a month’s stay at a rented condo on Amelia Island and then headed to the far south of Florida. We visited the Florida Keys for the first time for a few days and soaked up perfectly warm weather.

With high temperatures in the 70s and 80s, it didn’t take us long to sport a tan. We spent the handful of days we had on the go. We greeted the morning sun and filled each day with as much adventure as possible until well after dark.

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However, we seldom checked off all the items on our wish list of places to visit. Spontaneity overruled preparation. We took advantage of surprises and vistas we came upon, stopped to enjoy and do some birding, and moved on to the next spot.

We especially enjoyed visiting Biscayne National Park and Everglades National Park. Together they protect much of the delicate habitats of southern Florida, preserving a vast variety of wildlife, flora, fauna, and people, too.

I never thought I would ever venture out onto the open ocean waters in a pontoon boat. But we did in both beautiful parks. The combination of generous sunshine and the joy of adding new birds to my life list warmed me through and through.

However, it wasn’t until we returned home that I encountered genuine radiant warmth. The weather had nothing to do with that.

At Sunday dinner, we caught up on our oldest grandson’s basketball season. The middle grandchild chatted on about the books he read and his upcoming band concert, while the youngest seemed contented to merely enjoy her lunch. Our daughter and her husband filled in the happenings in their busy lives, too.

The Florida experiences warmed us physically. That warmth, however, paled in comparison to that of reconnecting with our family.

Everglades NP, sunset, photography

Sunset over Eco Pond, Everglades National Park, FL.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2019

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What Dog Days of summer?

waitingforharvestbybrucestambaugh

Waiting for harvest. © Bruce Stambaugh 2014.

By Bruce Stambaugh

The summer of 2014 was so cool and quiet that the Dog Days hardly even growled, until recently. Even then, it wasn’t much more than a whimper.

Of course, there are scientific theorems and meteorological terms that offer up logical reasons for the unseasonably cool summertime weather we have experienced here in northeast Ohio. I won’t pretend to describe or pronounce them. To do that, I’d actually have to understand them first.

I did hear a meteorologist say that the weather system in place over us was akin to the polar vortex that vexed us all winter and spring. With these late summer steamy days, I think I finally thawed out from that inhospitable experience.

I never imagined that that strong system would continue to influence our weather well into the summer. But it did, and I’m glad. Hot, humid weather and I aren’t best buddies.

After all you could always put more clothes on if you’re too cold. But you can only take so much off when summer throws a temperature tantrum.

summeroasisbybrucestambaugh

This has been a recurring scene in Holmes County, Ohio this summer, with saturated lowlands, and verdant hillsides. © Bruce Stambaugh 2014.

After the long, cold, snowy winter followed by the extended, chilly, wet spring, I feared a mostly hot, dry summer. That happened at too many other places around the country and the globe, but not here. The greater Holmes County area has been transfixed in its own little verdant oasis.

Despite the last minute warm up, this summer may turn out to be one of the coolest and wettest on record. If it is, I won’t complain. Then, again, my basement didn’t flood either.

Anecdotal evidence supports my assertions. Even horse drawn reapers couldn’t get through their hayfields to make the first cutting. The extra tall and thick legumes they attempted to mow bound up the machines.

The number of days the high temperature hit 90 could be counted on one hand. No 100 days were recorded. I was awakened at night more by cool breeze blowing through the screens than the air conditioner winding up beneath our bedroom windows.

I packed clothes for all four seasons for our weeklong family vacation on Lake Erie’s southern shore. My layered attire proved most practical.

flowergardenbybrucestambaugh

Flower garden. © Bruce Stambaugh 2014.

My wife’s flower gardens were gorgeous, the blossoms bright, big and beautiful. Our heirloom tomatoes seem to love this weather as well. They are the largest and most plentiful we have ever grown. The load of manure our Amish neighbor delivered probably helped, too.

Lawn care professionals, excavators, painters and construction workers struggled to keep up with their promised jobs. The grass grew so fast even the earthworms had to get out of the way.

It was so cool driving along the interstate in New York, I was certain snow was drifting on Lake Erie’s ice pack. My passengers assured me the drifts were huge whitecaps breaking. Nevertheless, I still wore my hoodie when we stopped for a much needed break.

I realize that summer isn’t officially over yet, and additional heat and humidity is still possible. But with both the bird migration and the new school year in full swing, the time has long passed for summer’s warmest days.

Besides, if you’re sharp, you’ll notice that the leaves on some luscious deciduous trees have already begun to blush their warm fall colors. Minute by minute, sunrise is later each day, and sunset sooner.

With that in mind, the Dog Days of summer, as tardy as they were, should stop barking any day now. For me, it can’t be too soon.

dogdayssunsetbybrucestambaugh

Dog Days sunset. © Bruce Stambaugh 2014.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2014

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