The Last Happy Hour: Instant Winter Severity

Winter Severity Index

During the past 24 hours, we’ve been getting walloped by our first major snowstorm of the season.  We’ve received at least a foot of new snow on top of what we already had.

Meanwhile, today is the last day of Wisconsin’s gun deer season.  Bow season began back in September, and continues until January 9.  In October, gun hunters in some deer management units had an early four-day antlerless season.  In November, we had the regular nine-day gun season, followed by a ten-day muzzleloader season that just ended Wednesday.  Thursday morning, persistent hunters could head back out with their breechloaders for a four-day late antlerless season that will end later this afternoon.

It’s not easy being a deer.  True, all this new snow will keep most hunters out of the woods today.  But sometime early this morning, we crossed a threshold.  The weather officially became severe—doubly severe.  Last night the temperature was around ten below, and we now have over 18” of snow on the ground.  If this keeps up, we’ll have a long, severe winter. 

Wildlife biologists measure such things with a tool called the Winter Severity Index (WSI); according to the WI DNR, it’s calculated by “…adding the number of days with 18 inches or more of snow on the ground to the number of days when minimum temperatures were 0 degrees Fahrenheit or below between December 1 and April 30.  If you think of it as adding up points, a day when both conditions occurred would get two points.  At the end of the winter all the points are added up, resulting in the WSI number for the whole winter. A winter with an index of less than 50 is considered mild, 50 to 79 is moderate, 80 to 99 is severe and over 100 is very severe.”

The WSI isn’t perfect; 17” of snow topped by an icy crust doesn’t earn that day a second point–no matter how unpleasant conditions might be for cold, hungry deer.  Similarly, there’s a big difference between one below and forty below.  Still, the WSI at least allows rough comparisons from one winter to the next.

So far this month, it’s been below zero about every other night.  Five points right there.  Just checked the forecast; more subzero nights on the way.  Looks like we’ll be racking up two points a day until later in the week.  By then, we could be getting more snow. 


The Forest Around Us

Some blogs have titles, some don’t.  Later, I may give this one a title that reflects specific projects I’m working on.  Or not.  For now, at least, this will just be…  My blog.

But if I did have to pick a title now, maybe I’d choose The Forest Around Us.  Kind of like Rachel Carson’s The Sea Around Us, only with seas of trees.  And I could write of looking into the forest and seeing more than the trees.

Or, if I weren’t trying to be so rational and scientific, I could make up stories about the forest I see outside my window right now.  If the forest around us could talk…  It would indeed tell quite a story.  But the story wouldn’t be as long as you might think.  Those tallest white pines on the island across the bay?  The one with the eagle nest, and the others clustered right next to it?  I’m pretty sure they’re no more than about 150 years old.  Here’s how I know.

At most, they would have been mere saplings during those few short years when all of northern Wisconsin was logged off and turned into one giant clearcut.  If they even existed yet, they were too small to bother cutting. 

If they’d been even a decade or two older, they’d be gone.  No question about it.  Growing right at the edge of the river that would carry them to downstream sawmills, trees like these would have been felled first.  So that pretty much narrows it down.

Who knows?  When the loggers arrived, maybe those pines were already about the size of your average Christmas tree. Or maybe they were still just a twinkle in some pinecone’s eye. 

Still, they had to start somewhere.  And so does this blog.