Fimbulwinter -- 02/05/11

Okay, I do exaggerate...

This is not Fimbulwinter. It's not even a record-setting winter, not even for Rhode Island. (I think it has either edged into 3rd place in the record books for the state or it has almost moved into 3rd place... I've lost track.)

[Oh, a note to those of you who may not have been keeping up with your Norse mythology: Fimbulwinter is the three year-long winter that precedes Ragnarok, the battles that destroy the world.]

Here you see Gillian and Jeremy after they cleared the driveway on January 27th. Behind them you can see the snow they piled up alongside the driveway as they cleared off the pavement. The snow would have been even higher than that except for Jill pushing over the top of the pile because she found it to be too tiring to have to toss the snow that high.

This is that same snowbank nine days later. It has become quite solid and frozen and difficult to deal with. I do not know how long it will last, but unless we get a sudden week-long February thaw, I would expect this wall of snow to still be around when the calendar turns to March.

It only appears that our mailbox is resting on top of a pile of snow; it is still on its pole, but the pole is surrounded by the frozen snow (and, indeed, the highest part of the snowbank is a couple of feet higher than the mailbox). I had shoveled away the snowbank at the edge of the road for enough distance down the street so that the mail truck could swing in close enough for the letter carrier to be able to reach our mailbox. Yesterday the town sent a backhoe and a couple of trucks with plows down the street to push back the snowbanks in an attempt to widen the usable portion of the street. Ever since the January 27th snow storm the street width had been so reduced that two cars would have trouble squeezing past each other. Now it has only lost about two feet of width on our side of the street and perhaps one foot on the opposite side. It's still too narrow for anyone to park on the street, but at least two way traffic is now easy again.

I was standing in front of our garage when I took this picture of most of the length of the snowbank on that side of the driveway. In 2009 I posted pictures of the final weeks of the last snow melting away -- the final trace of the snow was gone on March 19th.

I had noted above that this winter is about third place in the Rhode Island weather history in terms total snowfall depth. However, in our town, this January beat the former record-holding January (based on statistics going back to 1893 when the University of Rhode Island began keeping local weather data). Rhode Islanders will never forget the winter of 1978 when the state was essentially snowbound for three days. (To this day, a winter weather forecast stronger than "partly cloudy" will sent people to the supermarket to stuck up on bread and milk.)

Of course, none of this really compares with many previous winters. Those of you who read The Long Winter (from the The Little House on the Prairie series by Laura Ingalls Wilder) about the winter of 1880-81 as blizzard after blizzard struck a small Dakota Territory town. And, of course, there was The Blizzard of '88 -- 1888 that is -- the one I would always hear mentioned when I was a little kid (which shows how some tales get passed on... because that was 18 years before my father was even born.

And the there was the "winter" of 1816 -- known as The Year Without a Summer -- when the ash cloud from the 1815 eruption of Tambora in Indonesia (helped by ash from two other volcanic eruptions in the previous year or two) so chilled the world that here in New England they had snow in June (and frost in early September) and there were crop failures and famines around the world.

And then, if you would care to look back almost 15 centuries, back to 535-536 AD, to what Wikipedia calls "the most severe and protracted short-term episodes of cooling in the Northern Hemisphere in the last 2,000 years." Around the globe there were disastrous crop failures, cold, snow, frigid temperatures, collapses of cultures. There is considerable debate about causation, mostly volcanic eruptions versus dust from a major meteor impact. And, coming full circle here, some have speculated that the weather disaster of 535-536 may have sparked the development of the Fimbulwinter myth.

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