Chart: Boston Globe 2/29/16
Every weekday before I head off to work, I go through the ritual of checking the weather forecast and then stuffing my backpack with running clothes that I’ll need (or think I’ll need) for my afternoon run. At this time of year, the backpack is usually bulging with gear: the basic shorts, shirts, shoes, and socks plus an assortment of “extras’ — extra-warm tights, fleece vest, windbreaker, warm hat, a second pair of gloves. In addition to clothing, I pack chapstick and a special cloth tape that I use to bandage up my fingers and toes, which tend to crack and bleed when the temperature drops much below freezing.
But when I left for work this morning, my backpack felt light on my shoulders. What was the point of packing extra gear? Even the long sleeve shirt seemed superfluous. And instead of chapstick, I had actually considered throwing some suncreen into the bag. All of which prompts the question, what the heck happened to February?
Two weeks ago, we experienced the Valentine’s Day deep freeze when overnight temperatures in Boston dropped to -10 F. I had never run in colder weather than I did that Sunday morning, so it seemed winter would have its say after all. But within 48 hours, the temperature had risen to 55 F and we were off to the races. Since then, the daily high has been 50 F or warmer five or six times. There have been cold days, too, but nothing like what we’re used to at this time of year.
And then there’s the obvious contrast with last year, when we were buried by record snowfall. The memory of the six feet of snow that fell during February 2015 is still fresh in my mind. February 2016 has, instead, given us just about everything BUT snow. We’ve had soaking rains, gusty winds, and ice pellets, but hardly any snow. And without a blanket of white over everything, you can see new life springing up everywhere. My small front lawn sports a carpet of new crocuses. There are robins in the trees. What is going on? Is this reparation for the misery we suffered last year, or another example of extreme variation that should have us worried?
Humans are always prone to over-generalizing from recent experience, and so I don’t immediately conclude that a warm day in Boston in February means anything. Nevertheless, I still feel a little guilty enjoying the mild weather. Nobody wants to be caught rooting for Global Warming and climate catastrophe, and even though intellectually I know that today’s weather does not a global multi-year trend make, there’s still a voice in my head whispering that I should be afraid of sixty-degree days in February.
As a native New Englander, I’m also prone to being fatalistic about weather, in general. If the weather is awful today, I don’t fully believe it will ever be nice again. If it’s nice, I worry about what’s waiting around the corner. So when friends speculate on the possibility that having made it to the end of February unscathed, the worst is behind us, I’m the Calvinist in the room trying to warn everyone not to put away the snow shovels just yet. There’s plenty of time for Mother Nature to hit us with something spectacular and devastating.
But even the bad weather recently has been more entertaining than harsh. The storm that blew through New England last Tuesday and Wednesday brought strong winds and rain that made the house shake and the boughs of the tree outside bend and groan, but left everything standing, thank goodness. That night, I lay in bed listening to the howling wind lash rain against the window pains, and it was delicious to be warm and dry inside — and to know that, unlike with a blizzard, we wouldn’t have to spend half the next day digging out.
So are we really in the clear now? Does Leap Day 2016 mark the end of the winter that never really got going? I can’t believe it yet. If anything, this false February spring makes me more determined than ever to enjoy it while I can and take nothing for granted. At this time last year, I was repeating the mantra that winter wouldn’t last, couldn’t last forever. And it didn’t. Eventually all that snow melted and it seemed like a miracle. So this year I’ll keep repeating the mantra that if it seems to easy now, don’t worry, there will always be challenges ahead. But meanwhile, until whoever kidnapped February returns it to us, I might as well head out in shorts and t-shirt while I can.