You winsome and you lose some


“Lake effect snow squalls will affect the Bruce Peninsula today. Local accumulations of 15 centimetres are possible before the snow squalls weaken this evening.”

So said the Canadian Weather – Environment Canada alert on the Google search page Wednesday morning on the way to the actual website where the red-bannered “SNOW SQUALL WARNING IN EFFECT” appeared over the six-day forecast.

There was also an EXTREME COLD warning.

One look out the kitchen window was enough to tell the likely story of the day: The prospect of needing to spend several hours blowing the long driveway twice. Best to keep on top of it.

So, it was out to the old garage to go through the start-up routine with Mr. Massey Too, my 50-year-old Massey-Ferguson 65.

The original, and perhaps more famous, original Mr. Massey is in there too, nicely put back together. But as a Massey-Harris 22 (1949 model) with no three-point hitch capacities, he must give winter pride of place to his younger companion.

So, I go through the pre-operating check religiously before unplugging the block heater, starting the tractor up, and backing carefully out of the garage. Likewise, the Power Take-Off is gently engaged and slowly brought up to working speed. When your lifeline to the rest of the world depends on a tractor and a snow-blower, you treat them right — like friends. That’s one of the things you learn from living in a rural area, especially in a winter like this one.

(But not everything electrical/mechanical can be anticipated. For some reason likely electrical the starter switch isn’t working today, three days after I wrote that above; or there’s a problem with an electrical circuit between the switch and the starter. So, I can’t blow the driveway, or risk plowing through with the van. Not a good idea. That’s something else you learn living in the country: try not to panic; it will get sorted out. It’s not the end of the world. Or so I keep telling myself, about the tractor, I mean.)

(Good news update. Brent came over and solved the tractor problem. Everybody needs a Brent in their world)

You winsome and you lose some when it comes to tractors and climate change, not to make light of either when life hangs in the balance, especially climate change. Now there’s something to worry about.

As for climate change, that’s a world crisis that needs everyone in the global village engaged in solving. The evidence is adding up, either we deal with it, or it will deal with us: coastal areas flooded, destructive extreme weather events such as we saw in 2017 and are experiencing this winter in most of North America, and wildfires caused by years of climate-change drought.

By all accounts this is already a winter like some places in Canada have not seen for a long time, and many places in the U.S. have never seen since records have been kept. Why, even the President of the United States weighed in, as he often does, on twitter, just over a week ago about the record-setting, frigid weather in the eastern U.S.

“Perhaps we could use a little bit of that good old Global Warming that our Country, but not other countries, was going to pay TRILLIONS OF DOLLARS to protect against,” Donald Trump wrote. “Bundle up!”

Yes, I can remember what I still often call, “a good, old-fashioned Canadian winter.” I have a memory of being one of a group of children being pulled along through deep snow on toboggans behind a large, horse-drawn, wagon-sleigh on Christmas Eve night. I was six or seven then. I also remember walking to school – SS No. 12, Egremont Township – on a rural road during a heavy snowfall. I literally could not see my mitted hands in front of my face. But I made it to school

I remember driving an old Dodge pick-up through -45 Celsius weather in Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Northern Ontario in a January about 40 years ago and living to tell the tale.

And yes, this winter is shaping up to be like one of those. But this is different, like the winter of 2014-15 when the Jet Stream dropped down and brought something called the “polar vortex” to surround the entire Great Lakes region for weeks on end, with temperatures falling to below -30 Celsius.

Climate scientists and other experts in related fields are working hard to understand what’s happening. They admit they haven’t got all the answers yet, for example, about why the polar regions are warming much faster than the rest of the planet, and how that is affecting the global climate.

Strange things are happening in the Arctic. Indeed, so strange the usually staid journal Scientific American titled a Jan. 5, 2018 “weather” article, The Arctic is Getting Crazy.

“In the past year the climate in the Arctic has at times bordered on the absurd,” the article says. “Temperatures were 30 to 50 degrees Fahrenheit above average in some places during the recent Christmas week. Through November the area of ice-covered ocean in the region reached a record low in seven of 11 months—an unprecedented stretch. More important, perhaps, the difference between Arctic temperatures and those across the midlatitudes of North America, Europe and Asia during 2016 was the smallest ever seen.”

The deep-freeze in the U.S. has prompted regional news venues to look to climate science for answers. Like Scientific American, the Indianapolis Star reached out to Jennifer Francis, research professor in the department of Marine and Coastal Sciences at Rutgers University. As an atmospheric scientist, she’s devoted much of her career to studying the Arctic.

“This particular year, we lost a lot of sea ice in the Pacific side of the Arctic Ocean,” Francis told IndyStar, for a Jan. 3, 2018 article. “That, combined with the sea-surface temperature patterns in the Pacific, we think, is favoring what we call a ridge,” a jet-stream pattern that appears when the atmosphere moves up the west coast of the United States, which then pushes cold air from the Arctic down to the eastern United States.

“This connection between a clear climate change effect — the loss of sea ice in the Arctic — and being able to connect that to the crazy weather people have been experiencing is a great science communication tool,” Francis said. “People are paying attention now. You can explain how climate change is happening to us, right now.”

Nobody could mistake the intention of Trump’s tweet, to disparage and mock the whole idea of global warming.  But it also had the unintentional effect of drawing a lot of public attention to the urgent issue of climate change. And that’s a good thing.

A version of this post was originally published in The Sun Times in January, 2018

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