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Date:10/21/2014 1:53:30 AM
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When the Days Begin to Lengthen, Part I
"When the days begin to lengthen, cold begins to strengthen." So goes the old saying. I've found that it takes from Dec. 21 until now, the second week of January, before we countryfolk notice the days are actually getting longer. I've already related how my Pa would make chalk marks on the basement floor in line with the noonday sun at the Winter Solstice in order to chart the return of the Sun in mid-winter. For the rest of us, it is more of taking notice that the western sky is brighter as we trudge through the snow from the barn, stable, or coop to the house in the late afternoon.

It is at this time of year we experience the "January thaw." Meteorologists tell us that this is the first indication that the year has "turned" when warm, southerly winds soften the snow. After this oft times comes the coldest time of the year, when the coldest air masses on Earth, located in Siberia, are dislodged by these same southern winds of the eastern hemisphere and are propelled over the North Pole down through Canada and into the U.S. We are sometimes reminded by TV weather forecasters that even in winter, the air over the North Pole is temporized by the seawater while the landlocked air mass over northern Siberia ends up being the coldest place of all in the northern hemisphere. When that very air mass is pushed over to our side of the world, we can count on the coldest time of our year, and conversely, (or, perversely) we know that this is the worst of winter, and that better times are ahead. I remember that in January of '77, the air was so cold, and the ice was so thick, that the rough fish of the Machikanee Flowage in Stiles were forced through lack of oxygen to migrate up the spring-fed creeks of the Oconto River's periphery streams. I witnessed the local "yahoos" shooting the carp, suckers, and chubs that were packed into these narrow streams. This was due, of course to the high level of pollutants in the water of the Oconto.

Years later (after the Oconto River basin had been more or less cleansed of pollutants) I remember the cold snap of late January and early February of '82. The nighttime temperatures initially went down to -20 Fahrenheit As was usual with these cold snaps, there was first a wave of cold air that brought temps below zero. Then followed a more brutal high pressure system which pushed the temps to -40 with a wind-chill of -60 or more. I remember the meteorologist stating that after all this, there was simply no more cold air left to come down. Reacting to the laws of pressure and vacuum, relatively warmer air had filled into the areas that the coldest of air had evacuated. Again, the worst was over. Two weeks later we had temps up into the 40s. Next time, a continuation of thoughts on the depths of winter. -- Gary
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