Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

Enjoying Snow, While We Still Have It

Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

Enjoying Snow, While We Still Have It

Article excerpt

Join me on a Dickensian tour of the ghost of winter future - also known as Britain.

Snow was my first love. From November's first flakes and the season's first blizzard, to unexpected midnight dustings and late March blasts, snow fell frequently and happily on my childhood in western Massachusetts. I never complained about the unshoveled, post- blizzard darkness of my paper route, nor about scrambling over icy drifts en route to school. In the evenings I read in front of our wood stove, captivated by thoughts of Narnia's endless winter.

Snow gives us a new world. It gives us (not least) a day off to contemplate it. Snow bestows silence: Deep snowfalls "spread their peace," said Saint-Exupery. Above all, snow gives meaning to the great indoors. Thoreau wrote that in winter, "warmth stands for all virtue."

Coming in from the cold requires going out. I loved to build fires as dusk and snow began to fall; even more, I loved to stagger with an armful of logs back to a house aglow between an ivory landscape and an ice field of stars.

Fortunately, despite worries about a warming planet, no one is predicting the end of snow anytime soon. Some cold places will see more snow, because warmer air can carry more moisture. In the Northern Hemisphere, snow coverage this past December was the greatest since records began in 1966, Rutgers University's Global Snow Lab reported. But Dr. David Robinson, a climatologist at Rutgers, warns that year-to-year fluctuations and regional differences can deceive casual observers. In general, he says, there has been an "overall decline in snowfall."

Other studies echo that conclusion. The United States Global Change Research Program's recently released draft National Climate Assessment reports that "Overall snow cover has decreased in the Northern Hemisphere, due in part to higher temperatures that shorten the time snow spends on the ground." The report also notes a decline in the frequency of very snowy winters and in snow accumulations in the American West, and said we can expect more rainstorms "in previously snow-dominated settings." A recent study by the Natural Resources Defense Council warns that without action on climate change, the snow season in the Northeast will be halved by 2100.

I have some sympathy for those who say good riddance to snow. Snow, when it overturns our normal routines, can be its own reward: a Berkshire friend's "blizzard action plan" involves music and joyful bread-baking. But disrupted transportation and the challenges that winter weather can impose on older people are no joke.

Whatever your feelings for snow, its evanescence will cost you. Frank Lowenstein, a climate specialist with the Nature Conservancy, told me: "the snowpack out West is how we store water for the summer for half the country. And it's disappearing." That means less summer water for cities, agriculture and recreation. It means more wildfires. Changing ecosystems will also affect wildlife, while less snowy landscapes absorb still more heat from the sun. …

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