Commentary: Where have all our winters gone?After spending nearly all my life living in Minnesota, I am very well aware of the old adage “Minnesota has nine months of winter and three months of tough sledding.”
By: Bruce Ause, The Republican Eagle
After spending nearly all my life living in Minnesota, I am very well aware of the old adage “Minnesota has nine months of winter and three months of tough sledding.” That has no doubt been an exaggeration, but even being raised in the extreme southern Minnesota community of Harmony we could expect at least five months of respectable winter weather.
It seems that now even the global warming skeptics are taking notice and grudgingly changing their tune.
My father was the superintendent of schools in Harmony and had the responsibility of making the call to close school following a major snowstorm. I remember one evening in the early 1950s in which I rode along with him as he drove west of town to the open countryside of Bristol Township to visit with some Fillmore County snowplow drivers concerning present road conditions on a windswept section of open farmland.
It seems as though the drifting was so severe that conventional plows couldn’t break through the deep drifts. A special rotary plow had to be called into service to make these country roads passable. Upon getting out of the car I observed snow piled up on both sides of the road to a height of 8 to 10 feet for as far as I could see.
There is a low-maintenance road four miles north of Harmony that is plowed only for a short distance off the highway to the last farmstead. Beyond that point, the unplowed road descends down a steep valley until it crosses an old steel bridge over Partridge creek. For three years when I was 11-13, my parents would drive a friend and me out to the end of that road with our Flexible Flyer sleds and leave us for a day of adventure. The first few trips down the long “Hutton” hill were always slow until we were able to pack a trail through the deep snow. Twenty five trips later we were travelling at what we thought was lightning speed.
Even though we lived in town, we had a very long driveway from the garage to State Highway 139. This driveway travelled east–west and frequently drifted full with the help of strong northwest winds following a major snowstorm.
As a teenager, I found cold snowy weather to be invigorating as well as enjoyable. Thus I quickly became the designated shovel person. I can recall many occasions spending the better part of a cold blustery day moving a couple feet of wind driven snow.
The first 20 years as director of the Red Wing Environmental Learning Center contain numerous fond memories of challenging outdoor adventures with prime snow conditions and temperatures approaching minus 30 degrees F. It was very rare that we would have to reschedule an activity due to a lack of snow. In fact, I would wait until March to schedule our winter camping expeditions into the BWCA just to avoid the brutal sub-zero temperatures and take advantage of lengthening daylight.
It wasn’t until March of 1990 that I had my first revelation that global warming might actually be taking place. I was leading an ELC group of winter campers on a cross-country ski trip starting at the upper reaches of the Cascade trail near Brule Lake to Poplar Lake on the Gunflint Trail, a distance of some 20 miles. At the midpoint of our trip we were camped on Winchell lake and received 7 inches of rain over a 30-hour period. Several inches of water collected on the surface of the lakes making travel by cross-country skis impossible.
We found ourselves trapped in the heart of the canoe wilderness. Finally with an overnight extreme drop in temperature and blizzard like conditions the next day, we were able to safely ski out 10 miles and two days overdue.
Longtime residents of the Gunflint Trail told us that they had never seen such winter weather in their entire lifetime.
As we reflect back on the recent stretch of 60 degree temperatures, 10 inches of snow and ending a few days later with rain, one begins to question how we will evolve to deal with the new normal?
In a state that has a winter economy highly dependent upon the outdoor recreation of skiing, snowshoeing, snowmobiling, ice skating and ice fishing — not to mention many other exciting avocations — one begins to wonder how global warming will affect our landscape as well as our way of life.