This past weekend the temperatures in Wisconsin were a balmy 68 degrees. Our family was gathered at our farm and the Grand-kids played hopscotch on the driveway; ran around the barnyard enjoying the early November balmy weather. This changed overnight. In the space of a few hours we went from 65 degrees on Saturday morning transitioning to 38 and flurries at dinnertime. Wisconsin is the land of extreme temperatures changes. We say that if you don’t like the weather now, just wait ten minutes…..
Weather has always fascinated me. I grew up in on French Island-near La Crosse, Wisconsin. French Island is a strip of land about 3 miles long and 2 miles wide situated between the Mississippi and Black Rivers. My home was about a mile off the banks of the Mississippi. I have great memories of living between the rivers; swimming, fishing and ice fishing for pan fish and bass, boating and camping on the banks were part of our daily life. Living on the river the weather was quite changeable, the fronts swooping down the Minnesota hills west of us, to form storms that blew across the island. Thunderstorms were my favorite; the booming of the thunder amplified by the river valley.
My Father and Grandfather loved to duck hunt on the Mississippi. The great fall migrations of ducks travelling through the “Mississippi flyway” filled the skies each fall with Mallards, Canvasbacks, Coots, Wood ducks and Geese making their way south; in fact 40% of all North American waterfowl, (326 species) use the Mississippi river as a migratory flyway*.
*US Fish & Wildlife
Growing up, my Dad, and his black lab Cinder spent countless hours on the river duck hunting, they woke early; at 3-4 am in order to be in place for hunting; my Dad and Cinder by his side, tail wagging fiercely, making their way to the truck and returning home later with their rewards of a successful day on the river. Everyone had a part in the hunt, Mom and I made lunch and thermoses of coffee, my brothers helped with the decoys and gear, and in time hunted with Dad. We waxed and plucked feathers and prepared the meals together. My Mother is a wonderful cook; she created the most amazing roast duck filled with wild rice, onions and bacon….yum! Hunting was part of our life on the Island, just as it was for the French settler Moses Xavier Goyette and other French Canadians that came from Montreal to settle the island along the river in the 18th century.
My Grandpa Hanson told us a story of a remarkable and tragic weather day on Veterans Day; the Armistice (now Veterans) Day Blizzard of 1940. That day dawned beautiful and warm, with temperatures in the 50’s. In this day and age we are blessed with weather forecasts that predict oncoming storms, however in 1940 forecasters did not predict the weather changes…. In a span of a few hours, a strong low pressure and cold front from the north met up with a moist warm front from the Gulf of Mexico creating a super storm across the Midwest and plains states. Duck hunters on the Mississippi started their day in shirtsleeves, anticipating a successful day of hunting. The skies were filled with ducks of every kind, (actually fleeing south away from the cold front). In just a few short hours the weather turned; heavy rain fell; temperatures dropped to freezing; rain turned to ice then snow; 70 mph winds created swells of 15 feet on the river tossing hunters into the waves, and unfortunately many drowned or froze to death; all toll 150 died.
We still learn lessons from weather; hurricane Sandy certainly is evidence of Mother Nature’s unrelenting and catastrophic power. Although we have sophisticated prediction models available; the unpredictable nature of our ever changing climate and weather forces us to stand back, take stock, and respect Mother Nature.
The snow squall currently blowing past my window this afternoon is beautiful. The west to east winds swirl around the stalks of the native grasses and flowers blowing fine snow settling amongst them. In time the field will be covered in a thick blanket of drifts and mounds covering Little Bluestem, Indiangrass, Frost Aster and Rough Blazingstar. The snow brings valuable soil moisture to Wisconsin after a very long hot summer and historically dry year. I am in awe of the power of the winds and snow swirling at the moment and am thankful for the change from summer to fall and winter. The snow and cold is a reminder of the change of season that is inevitable, a sign that there are things we can predict-we hope!; the coming snows, the slow crawl of days toward the Winter Solstice, and the turning of the sun lengthening days towards spring.