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Winter 2013 – 2014: The Bad News, The Good News, and Lessons Learned

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Most of you have endured a winter so long and brutal that you may have trouble recalling a worse one. To recap (in case you were hibernating) here’s what we saw:

  • A North Atlantic Cold Wave swept across the continent bringing record ice, snow and cold temperatures as far south as central Florida.
  • An arctic cold front combined with a nor’easter brought low temperature records to the U.S., shutting down entire cities for days.
  • Northern states like Minnesota and Wisconsin endured temperatures as low as -37 F.
  • On January 7th, 49 cities including Detroit, Cleveland, Atlanta, Pittsburg and New York City recorded record low temperatures.

The Bad News

If you felt like this was a terrible winter, you’re right. The National Weather Service reports that over 200 million Americans were affected and the cumulative effect of winter storms equaled that of Superstorm Sandy[1]. The economy took a big hit – to the tune of $5 billion according to Evan Gold of weather intelligence firm Planalytics. Airlines lost millions in cancelled flights, businesses of all sizes lost entire weeks of productivity due to closures (including parents staying home from work due to school closures). Local governments paid huge amounts in overtime and infrastructure safety and insurance companies are paying millions in accident and property damage claims. Retailers suffered and restaurants endured day after day of empty tables (those that could deliver are in the “good news” column). Worse than the economic impacts, we saw a tragic loss of life due to exposure and increased hazards. It was another season of severe weather and the opportunity to learn some lessons.

The Good News

The good news is winter ends on March 19th, just a few weeks away. It won’t be long before all that snow melts, the sun returns and the world starts to green up again. As we endure the last few days, you might be glad to know that a long, cold winter with plenty of snow has its benefits:

Improves likelihood of a good harvest:

  • Thick snow insulates the ground and protects perennial crops (and landscaping)
  • Bitter cold reduces the number of crop pests
  • Ground water is recharged

Better public health (and better picnics)

  • Mosquito and tick populations are drastically reduced
  • Invasive species (beetles, moths, ash borers) are reduced

Better for the earth and its biosystems:

  • Water recharge means increase in fish populations
  • A long, cold winter ensures a long rest for hibernating animals. Warm winters can cause animals to emerge before cold has truly passed and food is available

When severe weather has passed, it’s easy to forget how dangerous and severe it can be. Before we start making summer plans, the next few days are a good time to make notes about what we’ve learned from this year’s long, cold winter:

  • Ice storms almost guarantee extended power outages. Ensure you have a secondary heat source as well as a way to cook other than with electricity.
  • Snow can pile up quickly and prevent you from stocking up at the last minute. Ensure you have at least a week of food and water on hand.
  • You may be taking in guests or helping neighbors in need so stock a little extra food and water.
  • Outdoor pets need to come inside and feral animals need help staying warm in extreme cold. Build or clean up your emergency animal shelters so they’re ready for next year.
  • Small and large civil emergencies can strand you in your car for hours – or even overnight (think Atlanta’s recent ice storm). Stay tuned for next week’s post where we’ll give you our updated checklist for emergency items you should always have in your vehicle.

[1] http://durangoherald.com/article/20140112/NEWS04/140119964/-1/s

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