The winter of 2011-12, if it can be called that, seems destined to be one for the record books. The entire lower 48 states are experiencing warmer weather and less snow than usual, while northern areas are colder — Valdez, Alaska has had 10 feet more snow than average. And, while much of North America is almost balmy, large parts of Europe and Asia are socked in with snow and frigid temperatures.
The phenomenon is apparently due to a relatively rare combination of weather patterns in the upper atmosphere. Circular winds around the Arctic (the “Arctic Oscillation”) have been spinning faster than normal, keeping the cold jet stream locked in the far north. When the winds slowed enough recently for the frigid air to flow south, another pattern called the North Atlantic Oscillation blocked the cold air from much of North America, leaving it to spill into Europe and Asia.
What that means where I live is that my plants are doing strange things. The decorative winter cabbage I planted is turning into trees. I’m still cutting baby florets for stir fry from broccoli plants that won’t die, and my collards aren’t just staying alive through the winter, they’re still growing. I can only eat so many collards — if you’re hungry for some, give me a call.
I can’t help but wonder, given the weird winter, what sort of spring we can expect. I suppose atmospheric winds will determine that, but whatever shape it takes, it will be welcome. Even when it’s on the weird side, winter is a time of short days and long nights, which can be a downer.
Will our weird winter be followed by a strange spring? Who knows? Whatever form it takes, we can be confident that spring will include sunny warmth and new growth that shouts of hopeful promise, and that’s something we all can use.