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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Thursday, April 17, 2014

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In Living Commentary

Winter is part of our identity in Wisconsin. (PHOTO: shutterstock.com )

Where, oh where, has our winter gone?


Where, oh where, has our winter gone?

This is a question that is more important than you might think. It's about more than skiing and building snowmen and sledding down a hill.

Our winter is a part of our identity. It's part of what we sell to people to come to Wisconsin. It's how we try to make people think that sub-zero wind chill is a joyous event that we can all celebrate with a romp in a snowbank followed by hot chocolate or spiced rum and a roaring fire.

There is a commercial currently running for the Wisconsin Department of Tourism in which a bunch of symphony musicians get into a snowball fight. The message, created by Hollywood mogul, and Shorewood graduate, David Zucker created is clear.

In Wisconsin we love our winter and so will you. It's fun, fun, fun.

When we go out to pitch companies about relocating a business in Wisconsin, one of the questions always raised is our climate. And we use our winter joys as a selling point.

Now what are we going to sell. Thirty-seven degrees and rain? Grass that is still green. Some golf courses are still open for crazy people. Galoshes sales are plunging. Ski hills must be teetering on the edge of bankruptcy. Corncob pipe sales are non-existent.

Nobody has to help a neighbor shovel a walk or dig out a car. We are lonely.

There must be a reason for all of this, so I called Mike Westendorf who is the director of operations at the Innovative Weather Center at UWM. The center is part of the Department of Atmospheric Sciences which is part of the Department of Mathematical Sciences, so how much smarter can you be? The answer is, not much.

Westendorf, like academics the world over, said there were a number of reasons for the lack of the kind of winter we have come to know and love.

"Weather patterns are different," he said, as I began to take notes. "Some suggest the drought patterns are still around. Sixty percent of the country may still be in a drought. That's why it was so dry this summer.

"Then there are the oscillations in the atmosphere. the best known are El Nino and El Nina." Westendorf, who you hear regularly on WUWM, was losing me fast. But he plowed on, determined to make me understand.

"There are at least three other oscillations," he said. "these can cause a lack of snow."

He also pointed out that cold air which moved in might actually be warmed up because the rays of the sun reflect off the ground which does not have any snow cover. And he said that the lack of cold weather helped cause the lack of snow.

"That rainfall we had a short time ago measured about one inch at the airport," he said. "That could have been six inches of wet snow if the temperature had been colder. Or if it was really cold we'd have gotten dry snow of about 10 inches."

I really liked talking to Westendorf. He's obviously very smart and he knows his stuff. He also had sympathy for snow bunnies.

However it is possible that Westendorf is wrong and that all this science stuff doesn't have anything to do with it.

I blame Mother Nature and Republicans.

Think about it. Mother Nature has decided that she wants to warm up the earth and create global warming. Republicans think global warming is nonsense. So Mother Nature is not happy with Republicans.

And to get back at them, she decides to almost totally eliminate snow. She figures Republicans have birthday parties with sleds being pulled by a team of matched Percherons while the guests sit covered with lush blankets and sip mulled cranberry cocktails while laughing at the lovely day.

No snow. No sled. No matched Percheron. No lush blankets. No mulled whatever. And no laughing at the lovely day.

That's what you get for not believing Mother Nature.

Talkbacks

hardgeminiguy | Jan. 17, 2013 at 11:24 a.m. (report)

Last winter i made $1,000 shoveling snow--so far this winter nothing!

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AndrewJ | Jan. 17, 2013 at 10:35 a.m. (report)

Ahhh... there it is. Your first mess-the-bed article of 2013. And boy did you take an epic mess on this one. Decent information, and then you decide for absolutely no reason whatsoever to troll Republicans at the end. Brings no value to the article at all. In fact, it makes it a joke. How fitting.

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TheyThink | Jan. 17, 2013 at 10:05 a.m. (report)

Interesting that the expert, professional meteorologist doesn't mention so-called "global warming" once so of course ol' Davey must dismiss everything he says and blames "global warming" and, predictably, republicans.

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scotbear8175 | Jan. 17, 2013 at 8:29 a.m. (report)

The year i moved here from Salem, Massachusetts (1977), It snowed before Thanksgiving and damned if that snow and ice wasn't *still* there in April. I don't miss that. Yeah, there was a lot of snow in Salem (on the ocean) but it would thaw and melt fairly regularly. This weather, minus the snow, is more like it was there with freeze/thaw cycles intermittently during the season.

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devidia | Jan. 17, 2013 at 8:24 a.m. (report)

El Nino hasn't been the same since Chris Farley died.

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