Thu 27 Feb 20 in Science

Where winter has gone

#Nature

The beginning of December is marked by a deadline for some children. Those children expect snow on Christmas day. So that means that every morning they look out the window to check if the snow had fallen while they were asleep. In recent years, this expectation has been met with more disappointment. Winter with its cold temperatures and white fluffy snow are becoming ever more sparse.

 

Cyclical nature and human nature

Nature has always had its cycles converging into seasons. Plants and animals have all adapted to these ever-changing seasons. Since having roots means plants cannot migrate some of them shed their leaves to retain more water which might otherwise evaporate through them. Others have wax-coated needle foliage that prevents water loss. Animals migrate or have evolved to cope with harsh temperatures during wintertime. Humans, on the other hand, expect to see snow on Christmas day as children or curse the sight of it as adults. They will be late to work, shoveling snow to get on the road. 

 

Warmer winters warmer summers

Warmer winters are very appealing to those of us that have to deal with snow every year. On the dark side, a warm winter can spell awful consequences. Seasonal snow helps regulate the earth’s climate system. Not only winter becomes warmer every year but summer as well. A warmer summer could mean a drier summer, which in turn shall encourage wildfires. Recently a number of fires have made themselves present in more than one country as news outlet coverage has shown. 

 

Water source and reflective properties

Snow has reflective properties and most seasonal snowfalls are in the Northern hemisphere. This insulating white blanket reflects 80 to 90 percent of sunlight during winter, back out into space, cooling off the planet. Apart from that, once that snow melts, the water fills up rivers and reservoirs, offering water in some places of the world that have difficulty maintaining a steady source, all year round. 

 

Marvels of adaptation

It’s impressive to see how some animals have adapted to cold climate. Deer and elks have shaggy thick fur coats that insulate them from the cold. In spring that coat is shed. They also use their hooves or muzzle to forage for plants under the snow. Hares that live up in northern areas have large hind feet. This helps them travel on top of the snow. Some birds have feather-covered feet like socks for winter. Marvels of adaptation all managing to face the cold and live among snow and ice. 

 

False spring

All these facets of nature are marvelous and intriguing but they are also subject to the changing weather. Some of those animals might migrate further up north and be greeted by conditions that even with all those years of evolution, might not cope very well. Plants are already blooming early, lulled into a false sense of spring, only to be met by a new period of chill in March. Because plants bloomed early, they were not pollinated and thus no seeds produced. Many farmers lost crops this way in past years. Migrating animals come back and find less food or some may emerge out of hibernation early and also find a dire situation. 

 

As simple as it may be to be grateful that there is no more snow slush or less time spent on cleaning the driveway, the simple fact is that such a small change impacts many facets of the ecosystem. We see their effects every year, as they slowly creep upon us. Weather patterns undulate and fluctuate so that some years may have extreme snow conditions. In the long run, however many signs point to no snow on Christmas day for some areas.