Yes, I'm a junkie, and I'm not ashamed to admit it. I could watch The Weather Channel for hours on end. Storm Chasers? I envy them; when I was in school in central Illinois - the state's own little Tornado Alley - I was the one who'd run outside rather than downstairs as soon as I heard that bone-chilling siren. It was ill-advised, yes, but it was fascinating. I'm sure that sounds steely, given that violent weather often results in devastation, but my interest lies in how storms happen, and I'm spellbound by the sheer might of the atmosphere when it's disturbed.
There's nothing more humbling than the awesome power of weather. I use the term "awesome" here not in the tween-speak sense, but in the original: an overwhelming feeling of reverence or fear produced by something grand, sublime or extremely powerful. And nothing is more powerful than weather. It dictates our activities, our moods - and how successful we are if we make a living in the green industry.
This past winter was among the mildest on record in the Upper Midwest: very little snowfall, bafflingly warm days. It felt more like a prolonged autumn that bypassed both winter and spring, leading us directly into summer's 80-degree days - in March. Flowering trees and shrubs blossomed long before they're expected, and even my stubborn elm pushed buds and leaves a good month ahead of schedule. This, after meteorological demigods had predicted a foreshortened fall and an early, long and brutal winter.
For those who aren't fond of the cold, it was a blessing. For those who worry about heating bills, it was a boon. But for those who supplement their incomes by plowing snow, it was a disaster.
In Southern states, the violent storms that we anticipate later in spring hit shockingly early, razing entire communities and stripping the surrounding countryside of all vegetation. In Colorado, where snowpack was down and the Chinooks fierce, an earlier-than-normal fire season flared with lethal results.
What are we to make of this weird weather? Are we experiencing an irreversible shift in weather patterns, or is this a fluke? Neither. Or both. I have a good friend who swears that the Weather Channel is populated by buffoons; she may be right, but it's entertaining nonetheless. I watch to see what's already happened, and I've learned to take predictions with a grain of salt.
What of long-range planning, though, when your very livelihood depends on dependability? And in the short term, what effects will this unusual winter have on plants?
To answer the last question, we turned to the plant pathology experts at Ohio State. Their take on a wacky winter appears in this month's Plant Health section, beginning on page 16. You can read the long of it there, but the short of it is this: We'll survive, and so will the plants. The bugs, too, for that matter. As Jim Chatfield, Dan Herms and Curtis Young caution, "It's important to keep things in phenological perspective."
For long-term survival, it's a case of being prepared for just about anything. In her article "Reduce Greenhouse Production Costs" on page 18, Joyce Latimer explains how to prepare your greenhouse for energy savings, because we don't know what the coming seasons will bring.
We can't really do anything about the weather. As my father liked to say, "Whether it's cold or whether it's hot, we will have weather, whether or not." A groaner, to be sure. But it's true.
One of my dad's favorite comics was George Carlin, especially in his early incarnation as Al Sleet, the Hippy Dippy Weatherman. He was probably the only prognosticator who consistently got it right, and his forecast holds up today: "Weather forecast for tonight: dark. Continued dark overnight, with widely scattered light by morning."