So, this winter is a little warmer than normal?

March 7, 2014

The sun is working hard to minimize the effects of this week’s latest blast of winter. The optimist in me hears the clock chime five and outside the sun still hangs high in the west. Halleluia!

No longer that low-angled dim bulb from the dead of winter that rises late, sets early and spends so little time warming anything. Now the sun works its way up earlier in the morning and builds up sustaining strength, packing enough BTUs to warm the pavement, melt the ice and send opening-act signals to the reddening buds of the swamp maples that always outrun the others in heralding the arrival of spring.

No wonder the pagans danced naked around roaring fires when the winter solstice passed and ever-darkening days finally reversed themselves. I’m feeling it, imagining the taste of thawing dirt on my lips, and the flowers on their way up to join the celebration.

So, that’s the good news. Nature’s taking care of it with no help from us. Of course, this Sunday, we will try to make the sun fit our schedules with the shift to daylight saving time. Just as the morning light is coming earlier, it will shift to an hour later.  Longer light in the afternoon when the sun is warmer. That will be good. This week’s glorious 5:45 sunsets will advance to 6:45 sunsets.

But, enough of that. Regardless of what the clock says, the days will lengthen steadily for the next four months. More light means more happiness.

Heating degree days

Dave Stevenson of Caesar Rodney Institute fame recently asked about the heating degree days information included each week on the weather pages of the Cape Gazette. Heating degree days is a term for a measurement that starts each year on July 1 and creates a running total of how many degrees the average temperature fell below 65 for the day. For example, a day with an average temperature of 40 degrees would add 25 degree days to the year’s running total.

Dave said there was a discrepancy between what our page from AccuWeather was reporting in terms of total degrees for this year and what the National Weather Service was reporting. That could be a function of where the temperatures are drawn from, for local calculations, or some other variable. Our stats are drawn from instruments in Georgetown where winter temperatures are often colder than the coast and summer temperatures are often warmer than the coast. The simple answer to that is the moderating influence of the ocean.

But what really caught my eye was the heating degree totals reported as of the end of February on our weather page. AccuWeather’s telling us that as of Feb. 26, there was a total of 3,272 degree days since July 1. In a normal year, that total - according to AccuWeather - would be 3,310. In other words, by this accounting, this is a warmer winter than in normal years. It sure doesn’t feel that way to me.

I posed the question to AccuWeather. Meteorologist Jim Rourke emailed me back: “After reviewing your concern about heating degree days in your newspaper page, I did some research.  We were off by 3 degree days from the National Weather Service (1 degree day on September 29, December 20, and February 15).  I fixed those in our database, so through yesterday the heating degree days number for Georgetown is 3,238.

“Next,  the total degree days number is close to the normal (3,284 heating degree days through 2/25), and that is correct, because December was 4.0 degrees above normal, January was 4.0 degrees below normal, and so far in February the temperature has been only 0.2 degrees below normal.”

So, December was warmer by four degrees than average Decembers, January was colder by four degrees, and February is right about on the mark for normal.

I passed Jim’s information on to Dave and he in turn emailed me: “National Weather Service shows normal HDD through 2/25 as 3,204, not 3,284 as reported by AccuWeather.  Either way, we are close to a normal year.  We have had several unusually mild winters in the past few years.  This year is just returning to normal and we should expect similar winters to this one in the future.  As of Wednesday we are 80 percent of the way through the heating degree days.  Yeah for spring!”

Trail work progressing

We did some informal reconnaissance work last weekend to see how work is progressing on the linking trail between the Gordons Pond and Herring Point parking lots in Cape Henlopen State Park.

Early afternoon on a Saturday and contractors were hard at it on the most technical part of the contract. For 2,400 feet or so, they are twisting metal screw piles into the marshiest section of the trail to support an elevated boardwalk. Not unlike implanting teeth into jaw, most of the piles have been placed. Now the serious business of securing cross members and stringers to hold the decking is well underway.

“Looks like you’re getting in some work before next week’s storm hits,” I said to one of the men.

“Yeah, we’re supposed to be done by May 5,” he said.

“This year’s weather hasn’t been helping you much,” I said.

“Nope. But we still have to get her done.”

My money’s on them.

It’s a marvelous project that will bring lots of people closer to nature than they’ve ever been. We’re all looking forward to warmer weather on the trails when we won’t be worrying about counting degree days any longer.

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