Friday, April 4, 2014

The Winter That Wasn't

This past weekend, the last inconspicuous bits of snow vanished from our yard, a full month earlier than last year. In fact, this milestone would have occurred even earlier, had it not been for one little last gasp of winter. Our yard was already snow-free on March 12th, before we got a sudden 10 cm (4 in) snowfall three days later. It didn’t last long.

In the thirty-odd years I’ve lived here, the snow season has never ended this early. By now that’s not much of a surprise, considering how this year, we really didn’t have much of a winter. Back in the dark, cloudy days of December, when the snow should have started piling up, it was always just a couple of degrees north of freezing and all the water falling from the sky came down in its liquid form. Not as pretty and persistent as the white crystals we usually get.

While we had a maximum of something like 80 cm (2.5 feet) of snow in our yard last year, this winter we barely made it to 14 (half a foot). And I had to clean snow from the sidewalk only once all winter, for Christ’s sake, not three times a week or so like in a normal winter. Even worse, I went skiing only once, for a mere seven kilometers (4.5 miles). The previous winter it was more like 180 (in miles, 110), and I'm not the world's most ardent skier.

The first "last" patch of snow, March 12th.

Maybe I could have gone skiing a few more times, if had bothered to travel further afield. But the normal skiing possibilities near our house, where we often can step into our skis right in front of the driveway, were dramatically reduced. With the help of man-made snow, the ski center at Palohein√§ kept at least one short loop open most of the winter – a really sad substitute when you’re used to skiing for kilometers and kilometers over open fields and through dense forests.

I certainly hope this winter doesn’t point to a disturbing trend. When I first moved from sunny Georgia to Finland, I suffered greatly from the long, dark winter days. That is, until I decided to embrace the winter and enjoy the snow. After all, that sea of white stuff just outside the door isn’t going anywhere for a few months (normally), so you might as well make the most of it. And I’m happier for having it around, since winter days are short anyway and the somber, gray alternative to snow can be downright depressing.

I’ve always joked that if, for some reason, Helsinki no longer had snowy winters, I’d have to move either further north (closer to the Arctic Circle) or further south (where at least you can see the sun more than once a month).

Even though the unusually warm winter this year might well be a jarring reminder of climate change, I’m still hoping things return to normal for the next few winters at least and I never have to make good on my promise to move. I'm kind of settled here. 

Nothing left to measure.


  1. It's just going to get worse from here on out. We wrecked the ecosystems that gave birth to us.

    1. Yep. Can't help thinking Finland is going to get cold summers and warm winters. Exactly the wrong way 'round if you ask me.