The winter that will not end.

An amazing thing happened at our house a couple weeks ago. I looked out the window at our deck, and actually saw the deck. It was so incredible that I had to summon my wife, Sue, to make sure I wasn’t hallucinating.

The reason it was so amazing was that we hadn’t actually seen the floor of the deck since mid-November. That’s when our first heavy snowfall occurred, and it just kept coming. I haven’t been able to find out how much we got exactly since then, but it’s still coming, with a dusting overnight as we entered the next-to-last weekend of April. The vernal equinox, the official start of spring, was a month and two days ago.

No foolin’, this was how it looked at our place on April 1st. Sue is holding Maisie, who was anxious for the snow to melt so she could romp in her yard.

About a week after the photo was taken we had a very welcome warming trend, with temps reaching the low 80s. All that snow was gone by the 15th, and I was finally able to get out into our woods with my new brush-cutter and attack the thorns and scrub that grow there. They are a pestilence, and I was going to lay waste to them. A half-hour later, the battery gave up its last ergs of energy and I had to stop to recharge. The next day, another storm hit. We’ve had cruddy weather ever since. (I thought of a stronger word than “cruddy,” but decided to maintain at least a little decorum.)

It’s said that in Wisconsin we have nine months of winter and three months of bad snowmobiling, which is only a slight exaggeration. It snows a lot here, more so up here in the north than in the south, where I grew up. I was curious as to how much we actually get, so I looked it up. According to, the snowiest state in the U.S. is New Hampshire, with 174.35 inches per season. Maine is a distant second at 92. Wisconsin is way down in 12th place with 46.23. I’m not sure how those people measure these things, but I can’t believe we’re that low. Certainly not this year; we got more than that by New Year’s Day.

We’ve had a lot this winter, but probably not a record-setting amount. The folks at say that Hurley, up on the border with Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, had the snowiest winter in Wisconsin history back in 1996-97, with over 277 inches. That’s more than 20 feet, and indeed that’s a lot. Just to illustrate the difference between northern and southern Wisconsin, Madison’s record is 101 inches in 2007-08, a total that is about 37% of Hurley’s.

Occasionally we’ll get a blizzard, when heavy snowfall combines with high winds to create huge drifts and dangerous conditions. That’s when everything shuts down until the winds diminish and the snowplows can get out and start clearing the roads. If you’re able to get around, you’ll hear the chugging of snow-blowers as those residents who are able start digging out. One of the worst blizzards on record in the state was the Armistice Day blizzard of November 10-11, 1940, when heavy snow plus winds up to 80mph created 20-foot-tall drifts and killed 13 people across the state. Another notable blizzard roared across northern Wisconsin and the U.P. almost exactly 35 years later, with gale-force winds on Lake Superior that caused the tragic sinking of the ore-carrier Edmund Fitzgerald.

Lost with all hands near the eastern end of Lake Superior, the tragedy inspired the haunting Gordon Lightfoot song, “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald.”
(painting by dureall)

There are some positives, in spite of the bad weather. Baseball season began on schedule, and the Milwaukee Brewers, the team Sue and I follow, are in first place in their division. With a retractable-roof stadium in Milwaukee, the team and its fans don’t have to worry about weather postponements, like the Twins do in neighboring Minnesota. (Only in Minnesota would they build a football stadium with a roof, and a baseball park without a roof.) My son Jim and I once attended a game in late April when big mounds of snow were still sitting in the parking lot. Sue and I were at a game in July some years back when a driving rainstorm soaked the city, but we were warm and dry inside as we enjoyed the action.

No matter the weather in Wisconsin, the Brewers will play, and a snowy spring is more tolerable when they’re in first place, like this year.

Another plus is that our lake is way up. The last couple years were relatively dry, with below-average snowfall in the winters, so we needed the moisture. Since the ice came off the lake a couple weeks ago, its level has risen almost 3 feet, which is rather curious to Maisie and our cat, Jezabel, who wonder what happened to the sandy shoreline they walked on last summer.

I’m not a winter sports guy, at least when it comes to outdoor activities. I don’t ice fish, we’ve never had a snowmobile and we gave away our cross-country skis some years ago. We had a snow-blower for several years, but one bitterly cold winter morning I was out just after dawn, wrestling the machine through our driveway–we have a pretty challenging one, shaped like a J with a wicked downgrade at the bottom–and said to myself, “Why am I doing this?” The next day I was on the phone with our lawn-care guy, who also provided snow-plowing service in the winter. Ever since, we’ve been willing to pay someone else to clear the driveway, and if it by chance can’t be done in time for us to get to work, well, we stay home.

I generally don’t mind shoveling, though. I try to keep thinking of it as good exercise, such as the first time I went out this winter to shovel our deck. Once I got into it, I wondered how much snow there actually was there to shovel. The space I wanted to clear was about 10 feet by 15 feet, and the snow’s depth was 2 feet. Trying to remember my high school algebra, I came up with 300 cubic feet of snow. I wondered, how much does this weigh? A quick Google search revealed that a cubic foot of snow weighs about 20 pounds. So, I was shoveling a total of 3 tons of snow off my deck. It was a good thing I looked this up later. I’d wind up doing this two more times over the course of the winter. I remember my mother telling me that during the Depression, my grandfather worked for a time shoveling coal out of railroad cars for a dollar a ton. Now, I had some idea of what he went through.

But it wasn’t as bad as what my grandfather went through. Ninety years later, his grandson shovels the snow because he wants to, not because he has to. The jobs he and his wife work provide more than enough income to keep food on the table and firewood in the stove, two things his mother told him were sometimes in question during those dark, cold years. The shoveling helps him stay fit, and indeed, he has outlived his grandfather by two years and counting. The effort, combined with the icy-sharp air that he breathes, stimulates virtually every part of his metabolism. It is somewhat strange that on this day in the midst of a brutal winter, he is removing tons of snow from his deck and he knows that when he is finished, with three tons that were on the deck now on the ground below, he will look at his nearly-cleared deck and think, It is good that I did this. Winter can do its worst, but it will not beat me.

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