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Down the Road

Global weirding -- January pre-thaw
By Milton M. Gross
Jan 13, 2013 - 12:10:52 AM

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The other morning when I left the house at 5 a.m., it was 15 above F. On the way to work, the radio said it was 37 in Bar Harbor. I met Ed in his office at 5:45 a.m., and he said a thermometer on High Street had read one degree above at 4:15 a.m.

I drove my bus past that same High Street thermometer at 6 a.m., and it read 29 F above. I came back past it at 6:30 a.m., and it read 31 F above. A passenger at 6:20 a.m. said her car thermometer read 11 F as she drove to the bus.

Must have been colder down near the road.

I got home for breakfast at 8:30 a.m., and the thermometer on the porch read 40 above.

Flags I passed along the road were standing straight out to the northeast. A brisk southwest breeze was bringing in the warm air from somewhere that apparently wasn't Maine.

I've weathered a lot of January thaws in my years in the Pine Tree State, but I think this was the strangest I had ever experienced.

I recall sitting in one house out in the country one January night, hearing water dripping rapidly from the roof. Kind of a strange sensation.

It was January, and January thaw is supposed to come in January. I have no idea why there is a thaw in January.

I Googled several sites, and I still have no idea why there is a thaw in January.

But here's part of what I found:

From the Farmers Almanac, I learned that throughout the year there are "blips" in the weather patterns called singularities. One is Indian Summer in October, when the weather is warmer -- and a lot nicer -- than just before and just after Indian Summer. The January Thaw is another "blip."

Unfortunately, I also found, "...the January Thaw doesn't necessarily melt away snow and ice during its stay. In areas where winter weather is exceptionally cold, temperatures during the thaw may not even rise above freezing." Which explains why the snow is not quite as deep where the plow man shoved it onto the garden at the edge of the driveway, but it is still there.

"Though they are a verified weather phenomenon, January Thaws don't happen every year. In order for a singularity like the January Thaw to be recognized, it only has to appear slightly more than 50 percent of the time," states the Almanac.

Of course, in my limited time in Maine I have noted January Thaws every year. And I recognize it when it happens.

"That's the beauty of weather; though predictable to some degree, it always keeps us on our toes," continues the Farmers Almanac.

It also keeps us stepping on our whole foot carefully during the January Thaw, so we don't slip on the melted and refrozen-at-night snow and land on our sitter.

I also noted somewhere that there is a kind of cyclone that occurs when the January Thaw happens. Apparently this cyclone in part causes the January Thaw. Of course, since I can't seem to locate the place where I read this, I have no idea why or how the cyclone causes the January Thaw.

In a Portland Press Herald article, I read that at 5,000 feet in altitude, those scientific guys who know these things can tell what the weather for many miles around will be like. It happens that the sun doesn't warm -- or the lack of it cool -- the temperature of air that high in the sky.

So, let's hear it for 5,000 feet high, I guess.

Bet there's no January Thaw 5,000 feet up in the air.

While we're learning stuff, did you know that January 23 is typically the coldest day of the year and July 24 is typically the warmest? That's also from the Farmers wisdom gathered in the many years the Almanac has been around for you to buy.

"The days surrounding January 25 have long been associated with the proverbial "January Thaw" when winter briefly loosens its icy grip," says the Farmers Almanac.

Does that mean the thaw we've felt this early in January is not really the January Thaw? Will there be another? Geez, I hope so.

I'm really looking for the one that begins in April, that month when in Maine it snows, rains, muds, and sometimes blackflies.

That's when I can get out and really begin to enjoy the Maine outdoors.

January Thaw? Not thaw enough for me. I still had to tip toe along the ice on the porch and driveway this morning.

But with all my online research, all I know about the January Thaw is.....

....I still don't know.

But I'll try to enjoy it while it lasts.


Milt Gross can be reached for corrections, harassment, or other purposes at lesstraveledway@midmaine.com.

Milton M. Gross Copyright 2012

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