On March 16, 2012 the temperature in Stillwater, MN peaked at 80.1 ℉ (26.7 ℃). The echoes of spring embraced anyone who cared to listen to the sounds of red-winged blackbirds that reverberated throughout the morning air. Our tepid winter was ending with a whimper, and a premature summer seemed to be on the horizon. Thoughts of unruly students ready to declare mutiny were almost as frightening as my fears of climate instability. The year was one of the warmest in Minnesota, drought gripped the Midwest, and fierce hurricanes battered the East Coast. Meanwhile, my students succumbed to cabin fever and quickly lost interest in anything I was selling. 2012 was a year for the record books.
Today is March 16, 2013. The morning low was 17 ℉ (8.3 ℃), and the high temperature soared to a whopping 27 ℉ (-2.8 ℃); what a difference a year makes. There are no red-winged blackbirds or great blue herons declaring territories, and we are bracing for a another winter storm. While I happily embrace the return to normalcy, I am still fearful of our climate's unpredictability. The new normal might best be described as abnormal. What was, no longer is, and what will be, is now more uncertain than ever. Is the drought over or will it persist? Will another hurricane destroy the coast while tornados terrorize the heartland? Your guess is as good as mine.
While I'm certain that the Farmer's Almanac once offered valuable insight about the emergence of spring flowers, I doubt its predictions will be any more accurate than the weekend weather forecast. Sure, this "normal" winter has been a respite from recent history, but to claim that we are back to normal would be an admission of ignorance. The data's in, the future climate promises to be a wild ride.
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