Jim McGuire: Premature winter — or not?

Winter arrived shockingly early last week. Arctic winds, several inches of snow, along with bitterly cold temperatures that quickly numbed the face and turned your spinal column into a popsicle.

Weather of the sort we might expect from mid-January, but it was a brutal surprise seeing as how we’re barely halfway through November.

A few hours before the storm moved in, I’d been comfortably splitting firewood in my shirtsleeves. But by late-afternoon—after a light drizzle began, and soon turned to biting sleet—I was desperately pawing through the hall closet’s dark recesses, searching for my heavyweight canvas coat!

Hey! Isn’t this still autumn? What gives!

I’d planned a run to the hardware store following my wood-splitting session. Given the fierce weather-change, a prudent individual would have simply postponed any trip and stayed home, cozying up to the stove and basking in the radiant embrace of newly-split cordwood.

Alas, I am not so sensible a fellow. As twilight turned into darkness I set out. What had seemed a mild bit of sleety drizzle in the cottage porchlight, appeared a genuine blizzard through the windshield and frantically whipping wipers. I cautiously negotiated the maze of dark and narrow rural backroads.

Naturally, I never once considered turning around and retreating homeward. Bullheadedness goes all the way to the bone.

By the time I’d finished my hardware errand and started my return journey, the wind-driven sleet had become mixed with lots of snow—snow that was sticking! Just seeing the road was a challenge. Plus, I swear it was a dozen degrees colder!

While in the store, I’d noticed an odd constraint among my fellow shoppers—somber, hushed, a mood of businesslike focus that appeared almost desperate.

Was everyone a bit shell-shocked by the wind-whipped sleet which pelted us in the parking lot? Or worried about the roads home?

Maybe. But interestingly, the following morning, I saw the same demeanor among the Canada geese who daily hang out around the big pool near the cottage. They, too, seemed confused by the suddenness of this weather or possibly seasonal change—aimlessly paddling about the back-eddy or standing on the snow-covered gravel bar, huddled like mute commuters waiting for a bus.

Disturbingly, unnaturally quiet. Barely honking, and only half-heartedly fussing at the trio of mallards when they swam too close. Decidedly strange behavior for the usually noisy, pugnacious Canadas.

Were they temporarily chilled into peaceable silence? Or merely quietly reconsidering their decision not to fly south?

Of course the question on everyone’s mind was what does this mean? What does such an unseasonable turn imply? Has winter truly arrived for good—or will we go back to milder, more typical autumnal conditions?

I have no crystal ball, and my track record as a weather oracle is not particularly reliable. At best I can only speculate, though that’s more or less what those blow-dried professional prognosticators do in spite of their science degrees and fancy forecasting technologies.

Nature is notoriously circumspect when it comes to her future plans—both immediate and long-range. She has certainly never sought my confidence nor counsel. I’m just a lifelong Buckeye making an experienced guess regarding Ohio’s coming weather and seasons.

Nevertheless, I expect last week’s unseasonable turn will prove more an anomaly—a quirky blip—than a true overall shift or dire predictor of things to come. Daytime temps will likely return to highs in the upper-40s, maybe even low-50s, with nights dipping into the 20s or 30s.

In other words, the usual range for this time of year. We could even see a bonus daytime high approaching 70 degrees before winter officially arrives! Not likely, but possible; I’ve seen it happen plenty of times.

Of course, I could also be wrong. This is Ohio, and we’re talking weather—hardly the best combination for amateur divination.

Winter may have come to stay. And this might actually turn out to be that harsh winter the pessimists keep envisioning.

Only time will tell.

Nature keeps her secrets, which is what makes the circle of seasons such a wonderful adventure.