Wednesday, October 23, 2013

How Do We Define a Cold, Snowy Winter?

How often have we heard the saying "Perception is Reality"?  
No other phrase describes the weather better than this one. We look at past winters through our own lense molded by our own experiences in that weather. Maybe we were on our way to a Christmas party in a snow storm. That storm will leave an indelible mark in our minds because of its proximity to Christmas. This memory often places more emphasis on the current weather than a more innocuous event. We might perceive the winter to be more harsh as a result. 
I've often heard people talk about how mild last winter was here in northern Ohio.  Yet when I site the data which shows that the average temperature from early November to March 31st last winter was SLIGHTLY COOLER than the 20 year average, people are skeptical.
There must be a more detailed story behind the typical winter narrative we are used to. Generalizing degrees of cold and snow just doesn't cut it. So how do we quantify why we remember a winter to be COLD or NOT SO COLD; SNOWY or NOT SO SNOWY?  
As I stated above, sometimes the average temperatures or total snowfall don't tell the complete story. For example, last year's overall average temperatures were SLIGHTLY BELOW THE 20 YEAR AVERAGE! Hard to believe but its true. 
The 5 month average is misleading to be sure. How about snow...we had more snow last year than the year before right?

Now let's dig a bit deeper beyond the generalities and averages.  The number of days at or below 30 degrees during was more than DOUBLE the year before
...and we had a week's worth of nights in the single digits well above the winter before.
...and we had almost 3 weeks MORE with at least one inch of snow cover!
I mention all of this to people and its still not enough to convince them that this past winter wasn't as "mild" as how they perceived it. Digging deeper still into the data shows the most important stat of all: The number of days at or above 40 was pretty high on the list. We probably remember those days more than the run-of-the-mill 30 degree days.
What can we learn from this in determining how we personally define a "cold and snowy" or "not-so-cold and snowy" winter?  
*  We remember the weather extremes better than the run-of-the-mill "typical" winter weather. 
*  We easily forget the single digit nights and the consistent snow cover vs the winter before. 
*  We diminish the importance of the days when the temperatures stayed in the 20s. 
We chalk all of this as normal.
Coming off of several winters with below normal snowfall and milder temps, we involuntarily assign more importance to the winter days above 40 degrees--the warmer extremes--so the memory becomes stronger as a result.  
What will stand out in the months ahead in solidifying our memory of this winter?


1 comment:

Mel F. said...

In my mind, the one that stands out for me was '09-'10 winter (but I've only been in OH for 6 years). That was the year that my winter driving anxiety began, prompting me to purchase snow tires!