Commentary by Ward Degler
“The coldest winter I ever remember was the summer of 1948 in Minnesota.” Lars Tarnquist rocked back in his chair and narrowed his eyes in reflection. He had been living in Florida since he retired several years earlier and had grown weary of the local chaps complaining about the hot weather.
“We moved our regular Memorial Day picnic out onto the lake that year so the kids could go ice fishing,” he said. “Fourth of July was OK except for the little Swenson girl who got frostbite on her fingers. Her folks warned her not to take her mittens off to light her sparklers. ‘Course, kids never listen.”
Lars wasn’t all wrong, of course. Standard equipment for picnics in Minnesota include a heavy jacket and something to keep your ears warm. When the wind comes out of the north, it doesn’t matter much what the season is.
“There’s only 19 trees between Northfield and the Arctic Circle,” Lars observed. “Not near enough to keep frost from moving in.”
I woke up last week wondering if I hadn’t been transported back there during the night. After three weeks of temperatures near 90, the mercury went into freefall, bottoming out in the mid 50s. It struggled to reach 70 by late afternoon. I switched off the air conditioning, cranked up the furnace and put on a sweater.
Usually the sudden chill comes in June. My grandfather called it Blackberry Winter. Apparently, it has something to do with blackberries turning ripe. We didn’t get any blackberries this year. I suspect the plants got confused and gave up.
Come to think of it, we haven’t had much in the way of “usual” weather at all this year. It warmed into the upper 70s in February, then turned cold and rainy when spring showed up. We barely had any snow during the winter, either. I used my snow shovel twice.
Some folks blame global warming. Could be. The planet has been warming and cooling for millions of years. A few years ago some scientists developed a sine wave chart that clarified the process.
My own experience with odd weather only goes back as far as the Fourth of July in 1940 in northern Wisconsin. It had been warm during the day for lighting fire crackers, but the temperature started dropping around sunset.
By dark it was downright cold. Folks setting off the fireworks donned Mackinaw jackets, and my folks wrapped me in a blanket and tucked me into a lawn chair.
Halfway through the Roman candles we noticed ashes floating in the air. Then someone announced that it wasn’t ashes, it was snowing.
I think Lars would have appreciated that.