Last week, the first full week of the New Year, was a weird one weather-wise. It was supposed to snow last Monday for like 24 hours straight, but the snow slipped east and south instead, slamming DC and the Jersey shore. Then on Wednesday, the morning commute was icy, and finally, on Friday, we saw our first real snowfall of the year, a nice covering of three to five inches hereabouts.
Philadelphians LOVE to complain about weather, and winter gives us a lot to complain about. But TV meteorologists don’t help, always acting surprised when winter weather is cold, or worse, when it snows. Just the threat of snow sends them into paroxysms of anguish– and sends us all to the Acme to wipe out the bread aisle.
While all of us hate slogging through piles of slush while scraping ice off our windshields, there are surprisingly many things we can like about winter. Here’s my top 10 list, the best of winter.
10. New vistas. Like all forests hereabouts, the Schuylkill Center’s 300 acres of trees have lost their leaves, allowing you to see across entire valleys, much farther than you can during the summer. You get a much better sense of landscape, valleys, dips and rises, cliffs and terrain. The Wissahickon is awesome here too. Winter opens a whole new way of seeing the world, but also opens whole new ways of hearing—sound travels much farther, so that darn expressway across the river is easier to hear in Roxborough as well.
9. Footprints in the snow. Winter’s creatures leave great stories in the snow, and there’s nothing like trying to decipher them on walks through snowy forests. A squirrel hopping to a tree, a deer nibbling on shrubs, a fox purposefully walking to its den: all this can be seen in snow. I’ve never seen a coyote at our trails (dang!), but I absolutely have admired their big-pawed canid tracks. I’ve even seen places where hawks have pounced on sparrows, the story etched in white—and with red splotches, like a murder scene in a mystery.
8. Winter birds. Speaking of sparrows, a winter forest is surprisingly alive with a rainbow of birds—cardinals, blue jays, crows, chickadees, titmice, nuthatches, woodpeckers, even birds that only come here for the winter like dark-eyed juncos and white-throated sparrows. Visit our Bird Blind to see some of them. And on a sunny day in winter, those birds will actually start practicing their spring courtship songs, one of winter’s unexpected treats. Titmice are especially chatty on sunny days.
7. Winter’s tranquility. A winter forest seems quieter than other times of year; maybe it’s the lack of leaves rustling. Come experience it firsthand.
6. Soup! Yeah, chowder just tastes better after a cold day or in the middle of a snowfall. So does stew. Or the ultimate snow day lunch, tomato soup with a grilled tuna-and-cheese sandwich.
5. Snowballs and sledding. There’s nothing like aiming that first snowfall of winter at the speed limit sign on my street. And with my kids grown up and out of the house, I confess to missing a good sled ride. There are few things as satisfying as a long downhill run. Which brings me to snow days. Many school districts including Philadelphia did not have a snow day, but instead switched to virtual learning. Given how little time children already spend outdoors, I hope and pray the snow day– and the sledding and snowman-making that goes with it– is not another endangered species.
4. Blue skies. Cold air isn’t able to hold much water, so winter gives us bright blue skies, much bluer than you’ll see in humid July and August. And check out the sunsets– there have been strikingly bright sunsets in the last two weeks– check them out!
3. No ticks and mosquitoes. Seriously. Both are dead, smitten by the frost (or should be!). All adult mosquitoes die, the species surviving as eggs lying at the bottom of still bodies of water, eggs that won’t hatch until the water warms. So right now, there are no adults buzzing our ears and biting our kids. And those damned ticks need some below-freezing weather to truly be knocked down a few pegs, which we finally started getting last week. So pray for more bracingly cold days to put a damper on tick populations.
2. The first snowfall. Yes, the fourth or fifth snowfall can be tedious, even exhausting. But that first snowfall? Magical. I even enjoyed shoveling the driveway– this one time.
1. Spring. The absolute best thing about winter is it makes us ready for spring. That first flower, that first butterfly, that first migrating bird returning from the Caribbean, that first green leaf, all of these are more welcome and more wonderful because we missed them for so long. Winter is the perfect set-up for spring.
Enjoy it while you can, in a forest near you.
This Week in Climate. According to reporting in The Philadelphia Inquirer, New Year’s Eve “registered an average daily temperature of 51 degrees in Philadelphia– 16 degrees above normal. In fact, the entire month averaged 45.3 degrees, the second-warmest December on record for the city stretching back to 1874, according to an analysis of (government) records. Six of the top 10 warmest Decembers have occurred in the 21st century; 2015 marked the warmest December on record.”
While last week was finally wintry, the month before it was decidedly not.
By Mike Weilbacher, Executive Director
Absolutely agree with all Mike points out. Love the quiet and challenge of walking and being comfortable despite cold. There are mysteries of nature you can witness and be in awe of. The birds and trees always remind me that winter is part and parcel of Mother Nature’s wonderful overall plan for survival of us all.
I also agree with Mike. I took a walk in the Pine Barrens of New Jersey, looked up at the sky, and thought the sky is so blue. During my walk I saw the migratory Tundra Swans. Nice seeing green trees in Winter.