Friday, February 21, 2014

Ch-ch-chilly Weather Brrr-ings The Winter Blues

Few would disagree with this message.
Despite waking up to a gray sky and rainy forecast, some New Yorkers preferred it over a winter that has chilled our bodies and our spirits. Temperatures were expected to top 50 degrees today (Friday) and tomorrow, a level not reached for what seems like an eternity, though it was 55 the day before the mercury nose-dived to a record low FIVE degrees on January 5.
Mother Nature may be teasing us, yet we embrace the brief respite from cabin fever. As we watch the snow and ice melt this weekend, prepare for temperatures to fall next week. This fleeting hint may have us dreaming about spring, but remember, we’ve had snow on St. Patrick’s Day, or even later, in the past.
By winter’s halfway point on February 5, most of us were already winter weary. No doubt, mantras at the time included “no more snow,” “enough is enough” and “give us a brrr-eak!”
New Yorkers, as a rule, tend to adapt, but this winter’s deep freeze has chilled that mind-set. We’re fed up and wouldn’t mind throwing in, or storing, our shovels, but, it would not be practical after groundhog meteorologist Puxatawney Phil’s shadow forecast.
It is winter, but who expected — or wanted to be walloped by eight snowstorms and a polar vortex. For a while, the snow mimicked the Energizer bunny it just kept coming and coming and coming.
After all, we didn’t need a weatherman’s (long-range) forecast to know which way the wind would blow (apologies to Bob Dylan for paraphrasing his 1965 lyrics that referred to political climate) or that it would be cold and snowy in January and February. That’s reasonably guaranteed around here, as much as heat and humidity are in July and August.
There’s really been nothin’ to do, except grrr-in and brrr-it or flee to warmer regions.
This has been a winter of much discontent (another apology, to William Shakespeare) — and an awfully cold one to boot (and gloves and scarves and layers of clothing). A snowfall may look pretty and picturesque, but when that gust of wind smacks you in the face, that spectacle quickly chills.
According to media reports, after the latest snowfall, the 57-inch accumulation puts us at the seventh snowiest winter ever. So far, New York has had almost twice the average for an entire season. We broke a 14-year-old record for the snowiest January and February, with the shortest month averaging more than an inch a day, making it the second snowiest February on the books. However, it’s unlikely we’ll top the record 75 inches that fell in 1995-96.
The only ones relishing — or profiting this winter have been avid skiers and road salt merchants, who can’t keep up with the demand for the ice-melting granules from governments up and down the East Coast that recently have had severe shortages.
Yet, it’s not the snow that unnerves us the most, but the bitter, bone-chilling cold. Even our typically stubborn spirits have sunk as low as outdoor thermometers. On the morning of February 5, the average national temperature reported by the National Weather Service was 11 degrees. Daily high temperatures in many cities across the country that day were below freezing. Some parts of the Midwest barely broke zero, yet it was tough being grateful for marginally warmer, though still bitter, weather in New York.
Government experts this week announced the Eastern United States was one of the coldest areas on the planet in January, even as contrasting temperatures nationwide caused severe droughts out west. Moreover, as we shivered to record cold and were deluged by frequent snow, western states had one of the driest months ever and the rest of the planet experienced one of the warmest Januarys in history.
An all-too familiar scene this year. 
Global weather has been capricious, too. Last month, at the London Zoo, The Guardian reported that Humboldt penguins were so miserable, following a month of snow, rain and wind, they were administered antidepressants to raise their spirits. Though the species is native to South America’s southwestern coast, where weather extremes are common, one zoo curator said the spate of unusual London weather altered the birds’ routines, leaving them “fed up, like the rest of us.”
One wonders if the despair persists would unhappy penguin pairs, who, by all accounts, mate for life, be offered couples counseling?
Meanwhile, half a world away, Mother Nature has caused problems of Olympic proportions. The Sochi Winter Games have experienced uncommon, non-gold medal-like weather and may wind up being the warmest-ever. In the dead of winter, the Russian region is typically much colder than here, but the mercury there has been above normal, while we continue to shiver as we zig and zag through snow and slush and try to avoid slipping or sliding on the ice. Olympic operators would surely swap for the weather with which we’ve been coping.
Nevertheless, as we impatiently long for spring, optimists point to sure signs of the coming season. Days are getting longer and we’ll add an hour when Daylight Savings kicks in after we turn clocks ahead on March 9. Baseball’s pre-season training is in full swing, with warmer temperatures anticipated by Opening Day.
For those drained by winter, there is warmth at the end of the winter tunnel. Pretty soon frustrating cabin fever will transform into delightful spring fever. 
Yet, as this column draws to a close, I think back a few weeks, between storms, and all that comes to mind is the undesirable prognosis from that damn friggin’ groundhog!