There’s a thing I’ve been doing every Spring for a few years no, privately. This year I decided to tell you all about it because I think you might find it useful. I call it the “Hope Graph.”
I moved to Minnesota from a slightly warmer climate. The winters here are long, and they are made longer by the local culture. For example, in Minnesota August is a relatively cool month. One gets the impression Fall is coming during the month of August, and the occasional tree or bush that has something wrong with it so it turns red early does not help. (Personally I think we should find and kill all such plants.) Correspondingly, Minnesotans will start to pack up their summer stuff in August as though winter was only a few days away.
Out east, where I’m from, this was a perennial question: “Will we have a white Christmas?” Weather forecasters were required to tell us, starting in early December, whether or not this would happen. People worried about it. Here in Minnesota, that is rarely a question.
Both Fall and Spring here are quick, only a few weeks long. Out east, the crocus push up first, then the daffodils, then the tulips, and it takes up to six weeks. Here in Minnesota they all come up the same day and are then instantly eaten by starving marmots.
The cultural hastening of Winter, the meteorological fact that Winter comes early and leaves late like those unwanted cousins from out of town, and the quickness of the intervening seasons all make Winter loooooooong. Painfully long.
Every now and then, during the Summer, I’ll experience a sudden chill. Not because it is cold, but because it occurs to me that Summer is short, and Winter is Long so no matter what the date is, if it is Summer, the end is near and if it is Winter, the end is not. When that occurs to you in July it feels chilly.
So, here’s what I do. About this time of year, some time in early or mid February, I make a graph. Using climatological data, I make a graph (I’ve done this with a table as well) showing what day we can expect, on average, for the daily high temperature to reach freezing. In theory, five or six days of the daily high reaching about freezing is enough to start the cascade of events that clears the roads and walkways of icy and hard-packed snow. Even when it is a bit below freezing, a patch of open pavement will collect sunlight (when it is sunny) and, combined with the chemical treatment left over from winter, the bare patch starts to grow and grow. A few days in a row of high temperatures reaching about freezing makes the Winter landscape start to look different. Hopefully different.
So I figure out when that date is and the nice thing about it is that that date is always pleasantly sooner than one might expect. At present I calculate that date to be about February 23rd. That’s just around the corner! If this is a perfectly average year, between about February 23rd and, say, February 28th, the pavements should mostly clear, except in shady areas, of hard packed snow and ice.
Then I figure out when the date is that the average low temperature will be about freezing. A few days of the low temperature being at or above freezing signals one of the most important unofficial holidays of the year: Point Out Dog Doo Day! This is of course the traditional day when the snow banks start to melt enough that the dog doo deposited throughout the winter begins to emerge, and we can walk around in a light jacket on the melted-off sidewalks pointing it out to each other.
This of course is no longer what happens with leash laws and poop-scooping city regulations, but it is still a great tradition.
By my calculations, Point Out Dog Doo Day should be around April 3rd or a bit after … if temperatures this year are perfectly average.
It is a bit depressing that the time span between Pavement Melt Off and Point Out Dog Doo Day is well over a month. But this is the Month of Hope. Hope that our year will be average. Or above average.
The following graph is the Hope Graph for the Twin Cities, Minnesota (click on the graph to embiggen):
This is generated using data from here. For your local area, you can find your own data. The experience of doing so will be good for you.
Of course, this all assumes average temperatures. We are currently under the spell of the Arctic Vortex, so nothing is average right now. On the other hand, the Northern Hemisphere is experiencing one of the warmest winters ever. This might mean that if the Arctic Vortex moves off the upper Midwest, we’ll experience an accelerated Spring.
Or, so, we can hope.