False Starts and Cold Snaps

False starts and cold snaps. A sign of warm weather followed by an icy slap in the face. That’s a Minnesota spring. Native Minnesotans pretend this does not bother them, but it does. I can see it in their eyes, and every now and then someone will let out a plaintive wail or even just grunt to themselves when they hit the cold outdoors. That’s how I know it bothers even the wizened old timers who grew up before indoor heating and learned to love the winter by walking to school across the frozen lake every day…uphill in both directions.

I can see it in their eyes and hear it in their visceral vocalizations. Like on one of those days when you get to work and it’s 20 something, nice and warm and sunny, nice and bright, and you figure spring is around the corner. Then you spend the day inside and when you leave, heading for your car or the train or the bus, a little piece of your limbic system remembers that it was warming up that morning, and your constitution is expecting it to be just around or above freezing.

But while you were inside and not paying attention, a Clipper came down from the Canadian Rockies, dusting the landscape with a thin layer of ice shavings (vaguely resembling snow), and the temperature dropped to 16 below zero. And it’s windy.

That’s when you get the little grunt.

So this time of year, I like to play word games with the weather, making up some factual statement of encouragement, then I tell it to the people I meet that day.

Like: “Starting in two weeks from now, the average maximum temperature historically stays above freezing!”

Or: “In just under a month, during years in the top 10 percent of warmth, we can expect three out of five days to stay entirely above freezing, even at night!”

Or my favorite, to use some time in late February: “Even though, based on all available data, only half the snow we get each year has not fallen yet, well, maybe that won’t happen this year!?!?”

These statements are of course meaningless, for several reasons. For one thing, nobody can really understand them, or if you do get your head around them, you can’t really use the information. For another thing, there are cold years and there are warm years, and that matters. These statements are based on long-term averages. Finally, with global climate change, the historical data are pretty much useless anyway.

But mostly these statements are meaningless because the audience is simply not receptive to them. This time of year—really, running from early March through early May—Minnesotans shut down the part of their cerebral cortex that thinks about the weather. This is because if they did not, they would go insane. I’m pretty sure this is a genetic, heritable condition that was shaped by decades of weather-induced suicide. No kidding. Every local Euro-American family that I know, where great-grandparents or earlier were the settlers, has one or more stories of suicide from back in those early generations. Not so much now, but back then it was happening all the time. It was the weather. Native American people presumably worked this out somewhat earlier in historic time.

So you cope and keep that part of your brain on “off.”

Then spring will happen so fast you won’t see it. Spring is so fast here there is no time for the black flies to breed, which is why we don’t have a black fly season across most of this state. Spring happens so fast here, Spring Break is only one afternoon long. Spring happens so fast here we call it “sprung.” I could go on.

Then we celebrate Fourth of July, post-season rates at the resorts start in August (I kid you not), and then we fall quickly into winter. That’s why they call it “fall.” If you weren’t paying attention, because the weather-wondering region of the brain shut down a little too long this year, you could just miss it.

Don’t miss it.

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One Response to “False Starts and Cold Snaps”

  1. March 23rd, 2009 at 9:17 pm

    Serena says:

    Ha ha. Very funny. You are completely right though – I simply lower my head, brace for the wind/cold, and just keep going. Thinking about it just makes it worse.

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